Lily — the sister of Belmont ATO Vice President Joe LaMartina — loves playing in the park, socializing with other kids and talking to anyone who will listen.
But while most kids were enjoying summertime last year, Lily was in the hospital.
“In July of 2016, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is one of the most common types of childhood leukemia,” Joe LaMartina said. “She’s in remission now and doing much better, but with that it’s a two-and-a-half year treatment plan, so she’s still in treatment and still will be through January of 2019.”
Last year, Alpha Tau Omega and Belmont Greek life organized the run to raise money for Lily’s medical expenses.
The event was so successful they decided to hold it again. But this year’s run will be Lily’s first time meeting the Belmont students who helped to raise $4600 last year to help with the costs of her treatment.
“Overwhelming isn’t the right word. It left me speechless — I guess I would say — to see the support that I got from the guys going through everything,” said Joe LaMartina.
Lily is doing better now than she was a year ago, but her cancer diagnosis was devastating for the entire family, said Anne LaMartina, Lily and Joe’s mother.
“I’m sure it’s like this for any family who has this kind of crisis. It’s either going to bring you together, or you’re all going to fall apart,” said Anne LaMartina.
Joe, who was in Nashville when Lily received her diagnosis, said he started going home more frequently after she got sick.
“We’re in a good place now, but you just don’t always know how long you’re going to have people, and so that taught us to celebrate the little things and enjoy time together,” he said.
Lily’s sickness was especially difficult at first because she was so young and couldn’t understand why she had to go through painful treatments.
“Lily has no clue what cancer is, in the sense of she has no clue that cancer means people can die,” Anne LaMartina said. “So we’re lucky that she doesn’t understand cancer, but that means we can’t prepare her for anything.”
However, Lily’s sickness has not changed her sweet and positive attitude, Joe LaMartina said.
“She’s pretty much a ball of sunshine. She loves to smile and run around and play,” he said.
This energy made Lily’s sickness hard at times, when she couldn’t go outside and play with other kids, so Anne LaMartina thinks that getting to meet a big group of people at the fun run this weekend will be “right up Lily’s alley.”
Beyond the fundraiser itself, Anne LaMartina is amazed by the support the Greek Life community has given Joe throughout the whole process of dealing with Lily’s illness.
“Last year, when Joe told me about the event, I just started crying,” Anne LaMartina said. “Just the fact that they saw how upset Joe was and just came together around Joe and our family and said we’re gonna help you guys. And they had never met Lily! It’s overwhelming, it’s awesome, I think it says a lot about their character.”
She’s especially moved by the fact that they’re hosting this event for a second time.
“A lot of people are really supportive at the beginning, but they don’t realize cancer lasts so long,” she said.
The fun run, which is sponsored by Belmont Greek Life, ATO and Stanley Machining, costs $25 to enter. People can also donate more money through ATO’s fundraising page, and all the proceeds go directly to the LaMartina family.
Joe LaMartina — who also serves as Executive Director of Belmont Up ‘til Dawn — hopes that the fun run will eventually become a fundraiser for St. Jude and its efforts to treat and ultimately cure pediatric cancer.
“The experience with Lily definitely made me realize the other side of what a patient is going through, so it kind of inspired me to not want anyone else to have to go through that,” he said.
But for now, the event is all for Lily, and the LaMartina family is extremely grateful.
“You sometimes don’t realize how much people mean to you until you go through something really tough and you see the people that you want to be around, and the guys in ATO have just kind of been the support system and the people I want to reach out to. They’ve been amazing through everything,” said Joe LaMartina.
“None of them have even met Lily yet — Saturday will be the first time — so it’s crazy to see that they love her just through my love for her. It’s awesome.”
Photo courtesy of the LaMartina family.