By Jane Fusco
It took less than 72 hours for Noah Antunes to go from a healthy, active 10-year-old boy to cancer patient. It took what seemed like mere seconds for the town of Smithfield to show their support and rally behind their young neighbor.
Noah was diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphoma, a fast growing non-Hodgkin’s cancer of the immune system that can be fatal if left untreated, after complaining of stomach pain that left him tired and listless. “He didn’t want to shoot baskets or ride his bike. He just wanted to sit around. We thought he was just being lazy,” said his father David Antunes.
A visit to the pediatrician led to an ultrasound and MRI, followed by a biopsy that revealed the abnormality.
Noah was immediately admitted to Hasbro Children’s Hospital where his father, mother Amy, brother Matthew, and other family members alternated stays to be with him around the clock. Noah faces about five months of chemotherapy and treatments and will remain in the hospital as long as needed. He will be tutored to keep up with his studies until he gets stronger.
Word of Noah’s struggle hit the town quickly. The outpouring of support with the moniker of “Noah Strong” suddenly appeared on lawn signs, storefront windows, and at the local schools where students wore green, the color associated with lymphoma. Sporting events that have been dedicated to his plight with players and spectators chanting “Noah Strong.”
At home, Matt mowed a large green ribbon on the front lawn and has organized his classmates at Smithfield High School to show support for his little brother. A “Noah Strong” version of goodnight lights appeared through Noah’s hospital room window one night when classmates, friends and baseball teammates shined flashlights creating a brilliant glare to let their friend know they were routing for him to recover.
Shortly after Noah’s diagnosis, Antunes visited Noah’s fifth grade class at Raymond C. LaPerche elementary school to tell them about their classmate’s disease. He said that they were visibly upset but had a better understanding after he explained Noah’s situation.
“Ten-year-olds should not have to hear the word cancer and that their friend has it,” Antunes said.
Antunes said that the doctors are “confident” that Noah can be cured even though he has a long road ahead. Noah will eventually be able to return to school as long as his immune system won’t be compromised.
In the meantime, Antunes said that friends and strangers alike have extended their support in “a hundred different ways,” from bringing food to the family, gifts for Noah, cards and emails, messages and videos posted on Facebook and, of course, the signs from well wishes all over town.
Through it all, Noah’s attitude has been positive and his spirits are good, his father said. He has such charisma that the doctors and nurses have dubbed Noah the Mayor of Hasbro Hospital.
“Noah may be in a hospital bed, but everyone seems to be getting along better because of it.
Some good did come out of it,” Antunes said.
Antunes said that it is impossible to thank everyone for all that they’ve done, but the family greatly appreciates the overwhelming outpouring of support.
“We can’t wait to bring Noah home,” he said.
There have been many fundraising efforts to support Noah and his family. All the Smithfield Schools had a dress-down day on October 11, proceeds will go directly to the family. There are bracelets, Decals, pins and Lawn signs all with a “Noah Strong” symbol. These are on sale throughout the town, specific details can be found on the Facebook page: “Noah’s Fight.” There is also a Go-fund-me page. To donate visit Gofundme.com and search for “Gifts for Noah’s Health.”