WALLENPAUPACK - A team of brothers with a community of friends and family united to support one young man currently battling leukemia.
At Wallenpaupack Area High School last week, “Sweatin for Sweeney” involved many games of dodge ball, Zumba dancing, food and more, all for Sean Sweeney and his family as they fight to beat b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Sweeney, who is a senior and soccer player was called a “brother” by multiple members of the soccer team, including James Carrubba who is a freshman. Because Sweeney is one of their “brothers,” Carrubba said the team knew what he was going through was challenging and so, they had to do something to help. Although they only met this year, Sweeney has already become a “good friend,” so because the teens used to play dodgeball, they figured the game would be a good way to raise money for their friend. As a soccer player, Carrubba called Sweeney “tough” because despite being “small in size, he is big in heart” as he “throws his body on the line” and is a “great defender.”
After returning from his senior trip last month, because his lips were white and others said he appeared yellowish while away, Sweeney’s mom Kristen took him for blood tests at Wayne Memorial Hospital. Shortly thereafter, they were on their way to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) where he was diagnosed with ALL.
Treatment for ALL, entails eight to 10 months of “intensive chemotherapy,” which is then followed by two and a half more years of treatment according to the story on a You Caring page set up for the Sweeneys. But, in the first months, he has to travel to CHOP one to two times a week for treatment. The donations are to help with costs because “every little bit counts” said Mary Schwartz who is one of Sweeney’s aunts that created the “Help Sean Sweeney kick cancer to the curb” account on You Caring.
At the Sweatin for Sweeney event, Schwartz said her nephew is “amazing” because he is “sweet, caring, loyal, loving and helpful.” Always willing to “help out” even during the holiday season, Sweeney can be found taking collections for the Salvation Army, by ringing the bell near the stores. She described his sense of humor as “witty” despite what he’s currently going through, since he is still staying positive by laughing. Simply though, “he’s just a good kid.”
One of Sweeney’s teachers as well as his soccer coach, Scott Bonagura said seeing everyone work together for Sweatin for Sweeney, was “incredible” because of the continuous support from so many throughout the district, all hoping to help. Bonagura called Sweeney a “fighter” because despite getting fatigued during the season before he was diagnosed, and having a knee injury, he still wanted to play. And so, Sweeney is a “fighter and he’ll fight this.”
With more than 100 students and 40 staff involved in the day, more than $8,000 was raised from the Sweatin for Sweeney event. In an email Bonagura said with so many involved, “together we can achieve more,” as so many united to support Sweeney and his family, while they face “this challenge in his life.”
A freshman and also a member of the soccer team, Ben Falgie said while Sweeney was just a teammate at the start of the season, he has since become more as they are all brothers and together they will continue to support him, even though the season is over.
Before being diagnosed, Sweeney said he felt tired and was out of breath more. Sweatin for Sweeney, he called “amazing” because of everyone’s support. At the event, Kristen said Sweeney’s uncles wanted to play dodgeball too.
Overcoming challenges is something the family does Kristen said, as Sweeney’s dad was killed in Afghanistan in 2003 when he was 3-years-old. This challenge, is different because as Sweeney’s mother she wants to take care of him and make everything better, but she knows it isn’t that easy. Watching him fight through this, has been “heartbreaking” because there is nothing she can do but pray that the treatments work and “have a lot of faith.”
Kristen has since remarried and with such a large family, there being a great support system, that has been a blessing because the community too has been “just unbelievable” she said. The love from everyone has been “amazing,” as there have been many phone calls, letters and more telling her how her son is ‘such a great kid’ who they want to help.
As he’s going through treatment, Sweeney is unable to attend school because the medications he is taking have made him more vulnerable to illnesses he said. Looking to the future, he is not sure of his plans for college, but he would like to do something with sports medicine or athletic training. If he could play soccer now, “absolutely” with a smile he said, he would play “in a heartbeat.”
From this situation, lessons were learned about community service and the importance of helping others, said North Primary School Principal Tony Cavallaro. Students at both the North Primary and South School rallied to support the Sweeney’s through a penny war, which was started by his sister when she placed the first coins in a jug at the North Primary School. Over a course of three days, between the two schools many pennies from piggy banks and dollars, equated to a $3,500 gift that Cavallaro presented the family at the Sweatin for Sweeney event. Cavallaro said, “every penny counts when you’re helping one another.”
The You Caring page, “Help Sean Sweeney kick cancer to the curb” can be found at https://www.youcaring.com/seansweeney-1066121.