MONROE, CT — Diane Eannotti, who is a nurse at Yale University, knew her family was in for an uphill battle when tests of bumps on the leg of her son, Hunter, 9, were diagnosed as stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in June. What she did not anticipate, was the rallying of support from community members willing to fight beside them.
In addition to the moral support Hunter receives from his fourth-grade class at Fawn Hollow Elementary School, and teammates and coaches in youth sports, three mothers spearheaded an effort to sell “Hunter Strong” wristbands, raising over $5,000 for his family.
“I definitely had to take an unpaid leave of absence from my job as a nurse,” Diane Eannotti said of the lost income. “Hunter’s treatments are so intensive, I couldn’t work as a nurse. It’s something we would never ask of them, but they gave a gift to help support our family during this difficult time. The bracelets and the people wearing them gives Hunter an emotional lift.”
Rachel Abraham, who works with Eannotti, Giovanna Bianco and Candice Boyle are friends of the family, and their children play youth soccer with the Eannottis’ kids.
“We wanted to be there for Hunter and the family,” Bianco said during an interview with Boyle and Abraham at Starbucks Monday morning. “Knowing that Hunter was going through this treatment and struggling, we wanted to put a smile on his face.”
The Monroe Little League and Fawn Hollow PTO paid for the cost of the bracelets, so 100 percent of the proceeds could help the Eannottis. Each bracelet sells for $5.
Bianco, Boyle and Abraham will sell the Hunter Strong bracelets at a table inside Angelo’s Specialties, 292 Elm St., this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those interested in buying a bracelet, who cannot make it Saturday, can email Bianco at [email protected]
Bianco said Juan Velasquez, one of the owners of A & S, bought bracelets for all 14 members of his staff.
‘A little warrior’
Dennis and Diane Eannotti have four children: Skye, 13, Mason, 12, Hunter, 9, and Nora, 7.
“He is a super energetic, very active kid,” Diane Eannotti said of Hunter, “absolutely loves soccer and baseball — loves just playing with his friends.”
Throughout his cancer treatments, Eannotti said her son has pushed through, continuing to play soccer and swimming on the Rapids, a Monroe and Shelton swim team.
“Soccer has really given him something to look forward to, to feel like a normal nine-year-old,” Eannotti said. “He also swims for a swim team. He’s been able to consistently keep up with that as well. It helps with treatment fatigue — that and soccer keep him conditioned.”
“He’s doing great,” she said of Hunter. “He’s heading into what is hopefully the end of his treatment regimen, but it’s definitely wearing emotionally on him. He’s just a little warrior. He never complains.”
Eannotti said Hunter should not do physical activity for at least five days after a chemotherapy treatment, but his Monroe Soccer Club team had a tournament in Rocky Hill one weekend last September — only four days since his last treatment.
“Hunter was bummed, because he couldn’t go,” Eannotti said. “His siblings were playing. He begged me to play that Sunday. He not only played in two games, he scored a goal after just having chemo four days before. He’s just a little warrior. He pushed.”
An emotional lift
On Oct. 12, the Masuk High School field hockey team held its 8th annual Cancer Awareness Game and raised $3,793 to present to the Eannotti family through their bake sale, donations and raffles.
The Eannotti family and friends, including Hunter’s U11 travel soccer team, were on hand for the game against Shelton, won by Masuk 4-1.
“Field hockey was the start of the community coming together and the amazing show of support for him — and really for us,” Eannotti said.
Since then, the Monroe Soccer Club, Monroe Little League and Fawn Hollow PTO have continued to sell Hunter Strong bracelets. The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation also came forward to help.
Bianco said Fawn Hollow students have been selling bracelets and giving updates on how much money was raised during morning announcements. The school also has a Hunter Strong billboard, according to Bianco.
Eannotti said two child life specialists from Yale came to Hunter’s class at Fawn Hollow one day and used candy and water to demonstrate what was happening with Hunter’s red blood cells.
“It was an appropriate way of explaining what was happening with Hunter,” Eannotti said, adding the children went home and told their parents about it. “They’re right behind him,” she said of Hunter’s classmates. “They ooze positivity that just tips the scale.”
She said the specialists explained what medications Hunter was taking when he was not in school “in such a fun kid way.”
Paying it forward
In a text to Bianco about the Hunter Strong bracelets, Diane Eannotti told her, “Hunter is really over the moon about the show of support & all of this has given him the BIGGEST SMILE each day when we talk about it and when he looks at his arms and sees them. I really think this is giving him the biggest push to get through the rest of his treatment.”
Eannotti said she is moved at how Rachel Abraham, Giovanna Bianco and Candice Boyle took it upon themselves to help her family through such a difficult time, even though they also have busy lives with work and children of their own.
“They’re like the support net you don’t know you need, until you fall — and then they’re there to pick you back up,” she said.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Eannotti added. “These three women showed us the beauty of being a human being with compassion and empathy in everything they do. If everybody was a little more like them, we would have a different world.”
“It inspires people to do things, not just for us, but others,” she said. “Once we get through this, we will continuously give back to others, not just in the community, but in other ways.”
Eannotti said Hunter has one more treatment before doctors evaluate whether it eradicated Hunter’s cancer. She said her son has been doing well.
“It’s not all roses, but I think the support in the community, in school and in sports have made the toughest days a little easier for him,” Eannotti said. “His class celebrates him every day in some way.”
She said Hunter’s classmates turn potential negatives, such as hair loss from the medicine, into positives, telling him, “you’re so tough. That’s why you don’t have any hair.”
“He loves playing gaga ball at school,” Eannotti said. “He was a finalist in the pit with three kids, and the kids outside chanted, ‘Hunter Strong!’ It just made him feel special.”