Joey Mazzucco, the Boy with the Fedora
When he was seven, Joey Mazzucco’s life was turned upside down by cancer. At an age when play is a child’s biggest concern, Joey was placed at the foot of an ominous mountain and told to climb. It was a demanding trek, but Joey refused to judge the journey as a tragedy. There was no time for self-pity, no use in lamenting. He donned his favourite fedora, embraced the power of optimism and climbed. Why? Because there was simply no other choice.
When Joey’s right shoulder began shooting with pain in the summer of 2009, a torn rotator cuff was thought to be the source. A visit to the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), however, revealed the tumour causing his duress, and Joey was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer.
Many may have despaired, being caught in cancer’s grasp, but not Joey. “We made it very positive,” he says, describing how he and his mother often spoke of staying optimistic and making the experience one to remember. “We tried to make it the most memorable year ever and it was a year that will be in our hearts until the end of time,” says his mother, Maria Mazzucco.
Over the next 12 months, Joey lived at SickKids, undergoing a marathon 16-hour surgery to remove the cancer. He lost half his body weight and all his hair due to the chemotherapy and other treatments. “I don’t like being bald,” he says, explaining his lack of hair was why he first sported an iconic fedora. “I don’t really wear another. I love it. It’s a cool hat.” Even through these hardships, Joey found solace in his positive attitude, hosting, for example, chemo parties everytime he or one of his friends was scheduled for treatment.
“He’s a remarkable kid, mature beyond his years,” says Dr. Paul Nathan, staff oncologist at SickKids. “I think he has an incredibly positive outlook, but he’s also a born performer,” he says, recalling how Joey, wearing his unmistakable hat, would often be found visiting others in the hospital, spreading cheer.
Today, nine-year-old Joey is back home and living life to the fullest. He recently gave an inspiring speech at the Rally for Kids with Cancer event in Toronto this past September. Joey has also found a new passion: acting. “I’m doing a Willy Wonka play right now,” he says enthusiastically.
When asked what message he would give to others faced with similar adversity, Joey replies, “I would always tell them to stay positive and think positive, I think that’s a really good strategy. It’s very hard for us [those with cancer], but I would just say never give up.”