‘Like a big family’
Lehigh Valley families dealing with pediatric cancer were shown some lovin’ by the folks at Warner Art Glass Feb 11-12 in Whitehall Township. Children who are battling cancer and their siblings assembled glass Valentine’s Day mosaics and created paperweights from molten glass in the center’s “Hot Room.”
This is the second year that business owner Charles Warner has offered to host this event for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley (PCFLV) at his combination showroom and activity center. Lisa Kappes of PCFLV said, “It started last Valentine’s Day and right after we were finished with it, the owner, Charles Warner, was already excited to plan the next one … so we just kept it as a Valentine’s Day theme.”
Although this is only their second year at the Whitehall location, Warner Art Glass has been in business for about 40 years.
“What interested me in glass initially, was seeing glass blowing when I was a child,” Warner said in relation to his enthusiasm for keeping the art form alive through following generations.
Bethlehem residents Mike and Jennifer Cleffi helped their young daughters, Mackenzie, her twin, Caitlin and Madison, glue brightly colored bits of glass to small square blocks of wood to create mosaics. This was followed by a trip to the workshop where the entire family put on safety glasses and worked with the glass blowers.
Mackenzie’s journey began in July 2015 with a bad nosebleed, followed by a sudden fever, which prompted a trip to the local ER with her parents. Mackenzie, with her mom aboard, was then transported by ambulance to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia while dad followed in the family car. The doctors at St. Christopher’s diagnosed the two-and-a-half-year-old with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“We left just to go to the ER and we didn’t get home until three weeks later,” recalled Jennifer.
“All of this is exactly the same as I went through 16 years ago with my son,“ remarked Michelle Zenie, PCFLV executive director, “It’s like the same story.”
“That first year was a roller-coaster of highs and extreme lows … Christmas and her birthday were spent in the hospital,” said Mike Cleffi, a health and phys ed. teacher at Freedom High School. “It was tough,” he added, “But we had an extremely strong support system between our families, the hospital, PCFLV, my faculty and my administration at the school.”
Jennifer Cleffi was a nursing student at Moravian College during that tumultuous time. Having graduated in December 2017, she will begin working at Lehigh Valley Hospital as a registered nurse in labor and delivery this March.
At this point, Mackenzie is doing well and the cancer is not showing up in her scans. The 4-year-old’s treatment is currently focused on “maintenance.” According to Jennifer, “She goes down once a month for chemo treatment. We give her a chemo pill every night.” She has an 85 percent prognosis of beating the disease because of her youth.
As Mackenzie’s fraternal twin, Caitlin does not carry a higher risk of cancer than their little sister, two-and-a-half-year-old Madison. So far, there are no signs of either having the disease.
PCFLV is a Bethlehem-based not-for-profit dedicated to helping local pediatric cancer patients and their families by providing free and unique programming during all stages of treatment, survivorship and bereavement.
“We include siblings in everything we do.” Lisa Kappes said, “That’s how we describe our foundation. We are like a big family.”
For more information visit pcflv.org