Meet the childhood cancer hero raising money for Alex Lemonade Stand Foundation
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- This weekend is the 17th annual Lemon Ball to benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation. The event raises money for the fight against childhood cancer.
It honors some of those who've helped in that fight as well as some of the heroes who not only raise money but awareness.
This is sweet little Matteo Vitale.
At 6 months old, his mom Kim Vitale says he was all smiles, all the time.
Vitale and her husband Alfred Vitale knew all about childhood cancer. She was actually baking cookies one night for a fundraiser for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.
"The next morning, my husband noticed Matteo's side was hard," Vitale said. "We took him to the pediatrician, assuming it was something like constipation. She felt it right away and she said something's there and sent us to the ER."
After lots of tests, doctors sent them to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, about an hour and a half away from their Roselle Park, New Jersey home.
"When we went to the pediatrician, we were not thinking this is cancer," Vitale said.
But it was. Matteo had rare kidney cancer.
"We were devastated. I think the first thing you think about when you hear your child has cancer is," Vitale said, "you can't lose them, you don't want to lose your child, so it's the scariest feeling in the world."
Matteo had to have one of his kidneys removed.
"We were just told we would keep on top of it," Vitale said. "Reoccurrence is rare in this type of cancer."
Unfortunately, that was not the case for Matteo. The cancer had spread to his lungs.
"Matteo had adult-fist-sized tumors pressing against his heart," Vitale said. "Surgery wasn't an option then because they were too big and it was too risky. They said we would try chemo to shrink the tumors and then have them removed."
Chemotherapy was tough on Matteo, and mom and dad.
"We couldn't really tell the amount of pain he was in sometimes or how he felt," Vitale said. "So we just gave him everything he wanted and we did our best to keep him happy, but it was extremely difficult."
Matteo's brothers and sisters struggled as well.
"We had a lot of help and our kids had counseling," Vitale said, "so everything was explained, but it was hard to be away from us."
It's been a long, tough road for their entire family, but thankfully, it seems the worst is behind them.
"Just recently, Matteo was deemed cured," Vitale said.
Cured, and with minimal side effects.
He has to have his heart checked out now and then, and he cannot play contact sports, but that doesn't stop him from playing soccer and building LEGOS.
"He is very daring and very crazy," Vitale said.
His mom says they know how lucky they are and looking back, the signs were everywhere leading them to be part of Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.
The fundraiser Vitale was baking cookies for the night before Matteo was diagnosed and, in fact, the Vitales had planned their own lemonade stand.
"My husband had all the stuff we needed for the stand in his bookbag while we were in Philadelphia being told that our son had cancer," Vitale said, "which is crazy."
And then, another sign.
"We walked out into our hospital room and there was a drawing done by Alex," Vitale said. "It's so surreal and crazy."
Matteo lost his buddy, Lucy, to cancer.
"We did a million mile and honored her, right?: Vitale said. "We saw a lot of our friends lose their children to cancer so coming out of this, we knew that we just wanted to raise funding to help find cures."
Matteo was not eligible for a clinical trial for his type of cancer because of the dangerous tumors pressing on his heart.
That clinical trial, partly funded by Alex's, produced a new, safer treatment for his kind of kidney cancer.
"Kids with his type of cancer will never have to go through what Matteo did," Vitale said.
The family holds lemonade stands every year, and now, Matteo and his siblings, Christopher, Francesca, Luca and Lucia also started "Go Gold Day" selling lemonade at four area schools.
"Once you see a kid go through cancer, your life changes," Vitale said. "We're so thankful for Alex's right?"
The Lemon Ball is Saturday night. Tickets are sold out, but you can watch the event online. There will be a few interactive elements to the event, which starts at 8 p.m.
There will also be an online auction.
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