Noah Strong is the New Normal for the Antunes

By Jane Fusco

Now that he is cancer free, that is exactly what the former cancer patient is attempting as he transitions into a regular routine of going to school, doing homework, playing video games, and attending sports practice.

Noah was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a fast-growing non-Hodgkin’s cancer of the immune system, on October 1 and underwent three months of intense chemotherapy and treatment at Hasbro Children’s Hospital that resulted in a cancer-free diagnosis on December 23, just in time to be home for the holidays.

“It was the best Christmas present ever,” said Noah’s mother, Amy Antunes.

But the family is being cautious since Noah is still susceptible to infection and needs regular monitoring. Burkitt’s Lymphoma has a 90 percent success rate if treated early though an aggressive protocol that can have some painful and distressful side effects.

Amy said that throughout the treatment, Noah’s positive spirit and courage kept the family strong. “He kept telling us, ‘Don’t worry, I am going to fight this,’” she said.

Noah came up with the #NOAH STRONG moniker that appeared on lawn signs, tee shirts, storefront windows, message boards across the community, and at the many fundraisers held in support of Noah and his family. David Antunes, Noah’s father, posted daily on a designated NOAH’S FIGHT Facebook page to provide updates on his son’s activities and progress.

While at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Noah became known as the mayor of Hasbro, regularly chatting with the doctors and nurses and making friends with the other cancer patients. They talked at length about games and sports and especially, what they were going to do when they were released from the hospital. He said he was very much at ease with his celebrity. “It was cool. I kind of liked it.”

Among Noah’s hospital visitors was former NFL player Joe Andruzzi, an offensive guard with the New England Patriots and a three-time Super Bowl winner. Andruzzi was there the day Noah was about to have his head shaved because the treatments were making him lose his hair. Andruzzi shaved his head for him.

Andruzzi’s football career was halted when he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma in 2007 and underwent treatment. He beat the cancer, and remains cancer free. His own cancer battle led him and his wife Jen to create the Joe Andruzzi Foundation (JAF) to help cancer patients and their families meet life’s day-to-day challenges while dealing with the stress of battling cancer.

Right up until the end of his hospital stay, Noah was encouraging the other patients to “be brave, be strong.” Noah said that he wanted to give hope to the other patients because “it is a good thing to do.”

The community played a big part in keeping the family strong, Amy said, People provided meals and other assistance to the family from October to December, since one family member was at the hospital at all times during Noah’s stay. “We are so grateful that the community was on this journey with us,” Amy said. “We will never be able to thank everyone for all of the support they gave us.”

Amy also said that her 16-year-old son Matthew “grew up quite a bit” during Noah’s hospital stay and treatments, taking it upon himself to do things around the house without being asked. The brothers are close, she said, and it was hard for Matt to see his little brother endure such an ordeal.

What’s next for Noah and his family?

“We’re just trying to get back to normalcy as a family,” Amy said.

Noah is up for that. He no longer needs medication as long as he is cancer-free. He is looking forward to returning to LaPerche Elementary school fulltime and get involved in basketball and baseball again. He knows he still has a way to go to rebuild his compromised immune system, and must have an MRI every month for a while, but doesn’t mind because he listens to his favorite rap music, especially Post Malone, during the test.

The family has decided to work together to raise awareness of pediatric cancer and dedicate time and effort to supporting research as Noah’s stories will help to educate other families going through it.

Noah has considered a future career in medicine, but for now, has his sights set on becoming a professional gamer, having played Fortnite and other video games extensively throughout his treatment.

His big brother Matt is just happy that Noah is home and that they are all eating dinner together again.

Editor’s Note: There is a blood drive in honor of Noah on Monday, February 10, 20202 from 3-7 pm at LaPerche Elementary School, 1 Limerock Road. Noah has received four blood transfusions during his treatment.