Faifield Resident and Former Pediatric Cancer Patient from Children’S Hospital of New Jersey Beats the Odds with Determination and Emraces a New Career in Nursing
Monday, July 16, 2012 • 2:22pm
As Janelle Romandetto, then a Rutgers University freshman, sat in the office of the Valerie Fund Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders awaiting news of her blood tests, she did not suspect the worst. After all, she thought, it might be as simple as a diagnosis of mononucleosis. But when Janelle, her mother Gina, and Aunt Linda, met with the physician, the news was dramatic, not simple at all.
Janelle had a rare form of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). It was serious enough that she had to leave the office immediately and travel directly to Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (CHoNJ) at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center where she was hospitalized for 34 days straight from March 31 through May 2008, for intensive treatment. During that time she became one of the first pediatric patients at CHoNJ to receive Arsenic trioxide, a chemotherapy drug used to treat APL.
“At first I was in shock,” she recalls. “I don’t remember if I cried immediately. I know I cried later. I was texting my friends what happened and one girl wrote ‘Feel better soon,’ because it didn’t make any sense what I was telling them.”
Now, flash forward four years, and Janelle, who managed to graduate from Rutgers on time, within four years, by working overtime at summer classes, has now been accepted into Rutgers prestigious Accelerated Nursing Program. Janelle will complete the program, which only accepted 20 students from a pool of over 300
applicants, this August, and she will then have a bachelor’s degree in nursing as well as her previously earned bachelor’s degree in communications.
Best of all, she is cancer-free, reports Peri Kamalaker, MD, Pediatric Hematologist /Oncologist and Director of the Valerie Fund Children’s Center at all three sites of Barnabas Health.
“She has done such a fantastic job throughout this whole challenging experience,” relates her mother, Gina. “God bless her, she was always a fighter. She went back her sophomore year while still receiving chemotherapy treatments and kept up with her classes. Even when we went to the beach she would wear a wig and not let that keep her from going on. Nothing could stop her.”
A Fighter Keeps Going
With Janelle settled into a hospital room at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, her strong support system of friends and family decorated her room with photos and signs of encouragement to help her endure the long days of treatment.
“Janelle’s cancer is rare, with only about fifty to 100 cases occurring each year in this country, and it required immediate and intensive treatment,” says Dr. Kamalaker. “Fortunately it is one of the most curable forms of cancer and Janelle has responded beautifully. She has been an inspiration to the entire staff, through her enduring strength and determination to continue her studies.”
After spending the summer of 2008 receiving chemotherapy 24 hours a day for seven days, Janelle needed time to recover. Despite the intense therapy, staff members recall a girl who was always walking around the unit.
“I was used to always being so active and even then I was determined not to just sit in my bed,” Janelle relates. “I never really allowed myself to get depressed during that time. I tried to maintain a positive outlook despite my frustration.”
That determined spirit helped her during her sophomore year when she completed two more rounds of chemotherapy and managed to still complete her class. Her parents drove her back and forth from their Fairfield home, to Rutgers, to Newark Beth Israel for treatments.
The time spent at the hospital inspired a love of nursing that she previously did not have, and helped her to choose a new career path.
“The nurses and physicians were so positive and hands on that I decided I really wanted to help to take are of people like they were taking care of me,” Janelle says.
One person who has already been the recipient of that care was her cousin, Corey Forlenza, who will graduate from Montville High School this year and was a champion wrestler despite the diagnosis of Burkitt lymphoma, a fast-growing form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, in May 2009, the end of his freshman year. Corey is now in good health and looking forward to attending Scranton University in the fall.
“At first he was worried about losing his hair, but I said, I’m a girl and I lost mine too,” she says. “I think it helped him to see that I had gotten through all of it and was doing well, and he could too.”
Now with her laser focus pointed on completing the nursing program, Janelle is hopeful for the future.
“I think this whole experience made me stronger. I got through it with a pretty good attitude and it helped me to see that I am a strong person.”