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Chemo side effect treatment brings comfort

Chemo side effect treatment, in memory of Frank Antonawich, brings comfort

Francis (Frank) William Antonawich was a helper and a healer, a nursing student who wanted to become a pediatric oncology nurse. He passed away too soon, in February at the age of 25, after fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a patient at Stony Brook University Hospital.

But with help from the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO), Frank left a legacy of caring for pediatric oncology patients. Stony Brook Children's Hospital is the first hospital on Long Island to be inducted into the ACCO’s “Take a Pop, Share a Smile" campaign. The campaign donates freezers stocked with a lifetime supply of ice pops. The pops ease the discomfort of mucositis, a serious side effect of chemotherapy.

Stony Brook Children’s new pediatric oncology freezer from the ACCO has been dubbed “Frankie’s Freezer,” in loving tribute to Frank Antonawich. It will spread comfort and good cheer, just as Frank did throughout his life. 

Frankie’s Freezer was unveiled at an emotional ceremony held at Stony Brook Medicine May 3. Lisa Rendina, RN, MSN, CCRN, a Nurse Specialist for the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook Children's, told the audience that 15,780 kids each year – between birth and adolescence – will be diagnosed with cancer. Many will suffer from mucositis – painful infections and sores in the mouth, throat and digestive tract – caused by chemotherapy. The patient’s oncology treatments may be thrown off schedule because of this complication, Rendina said. 

Frankie’s Freezer, with its soothing, cooling frozen treats, will offer mucositis treatment for kids receiving chemo at Stony Brook Children’s. It’s a fitting memorial to Frankie, say his family and friends. His father, Frank Antonawich, said it reflects the care Frank hoped to provide as a health care practitioner.

“He developed a rapport with oncology patients here at Stony Brook,” Frank said. “He would have been great as a nurse.”

“Every time kids take a pop, it will put them at ease. And that means that Frank also gets to realize his dream, because in a way he’s helping to treat the kids. That’s very moving to me.” 

Frank’s mother, Lynn Marie Antonawich, MS, RN, Assistant Director of Nursing for Stony Brook’s Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, recalled that Frank knew firsthand what it was like to live with cancer.

"While we are still so devastated and shattered from the loss of our beautiful, brave and courageous son,” she said, “it brings us great comfort to know when a pediatric patient's family gives their child an ice pop from Frankie's Freezer to soothe their baby’s throat, in that very moment, my son's wish of taking care of kids with cancer will continue."

The freezer is decorated with inspirational quotes, such as “The one who falls and gets up is so much stronger than the one who never fell.” The decorations were carefully hand-drawn and colored by Girl Scouts from local service unit 45. Erin Ersoy, Aubri Krauss and Delaney Unger – who are not only Girl Scouts but also cancer survivors who were treated at Stony Brook Children’s – helped unveil Frankie’s Freezer at the ceremony.