By Dan Guarino
Orange ribbons and balloons lined Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel as more than 200 people came out on Wednesday, August 23, to cheer on 13-year-old Rocco Pisani as the young cancer survivor returned home from his 109th and final leukemia chemotherapy treatment.
Earlier, several carloads of friends, honking horns and waving signs reading, “Never Give Up,” “We Love You, Rocco,” “Congrats!” and “#RoccoStrong,” greeted a surprised Pisani as he exited Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park after his last chemo session.
Forming a caravan to escort him home, they re-entered Broad Channel around 4 p.m., where residents waited, gathered along the boulevard with balloons and signs of their own to clap and cheer as Pisani rode by. With lights flashing and sirens wailing, the procession was also joined by engines of the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department. Accompanied by units of the NYPD, the column of a dozen plus vehicles followed behind Pisani as he went past in his father Rob’s bright yellow Lamborghini.
Diagnosed in 2020, at the age of 10, Pisani has had the steadfast support of his family, classmates, friends and the tight-knit Broad Channel community, as along with difficult chemotherapy treatments, he underwent two surgeries, 14 blood transfusions, 29 spinal taps, 60 leg shots, seven platelet transfusions and 11 emergency room visits.
“He never complained,” said neighbor Marty Feeney, who helped organize the parade. “Never.”
During this, Pisani and his family, including father Rob, mother Jamie, and sister Charlie, formed a bound of mutual support with Rockaway’s O’Sullivan family. In 2019, then nine-year-old Siobhan O’Sullivan had also been diagnosed with leukemia. By early 2022 Siobhan and Rocco had teamed up to ‘pay it forward’ to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), which seeks to find better treatments to fight the disease.
Under the banner Team Sister Strong, Siobhan’s sister, Julia, began a mission to find ways to raise money for the organization. Siobhan herself was declared cancer free in July of 2021, and was on hand with her family to celebrate Rocco’s big day on Wednesday. Sullivan and Pisani are teaming up as survivors in February to run for “Student Visionary of the Year” for LLS and are also planning a November fundraiser.
Wednesday afternoon topped off with over a hundred people gathered block-party style on the street in front of the Pisani’s West 20th Road home. Among those were friends, family, neighbors and supporters, including Councilwoman Joann Ariola, 100th Precinct Commander Deputy Inspector Carlos Fabara, and Community Affairs Officers PO Victor Boamah and PO Lauren Haber and members of the Black Surfing Association. Ariola presented Pisani with a Certificate of Courage noting his “Persistence, Fortitude and Determination.”
The crowd enjoyed DJ music while vendors served up fresh-made pizza, egg rolls, cotton candy, popcorn, White Castle hamburgers and beverages, all at no cost. Later a colorful multi-tiered cake was brought out topped with “Rocco Strong” and laced with words like “Believe” and “No One Fights Alone.”
In an emotional moment, those assembled turned toward the high porch of the Pisani home. There Rocco, surrounded by his mother, father and sister, rang out the bell marking the end of his treatment. It is a tradition among cancer patients celebrating this milestone and marking the close of a difficult chapter.
Marking the occasion, DJ Teddy pronounced, “Say ‘My treatment is done. This course is run, and I am on my way.’ Ring the bell, kid!” The Broad Channel crowd roared with cheers and applause as Rocco did so.
Later, his mother, Jaime, would thank everyone who took part and post, “The scars of battle will always be there, but so will the memories of the love that has been shared with us.”
A lawn sign flanked by congratulations for the Pisani children’s new school year, perhaps summed up the spirit of the day in announcing in big orange letters, “Your Future is Bright.”
Photos by Dan Guarino, Alex Hoffman and courtesy of the Pisani Family.