We caught up with the Fairfax-based cancer survivor ahead of her foundation’s fundraising dinner.
At just 17 years old, Nikki Ferraro not only fought a rare form of thyroid cancer, but also founded the Bite Me Cancer Foundation, a Fairfax-based nonprofit that creates and distributes teen-focused support bags to teenagers with cancer in hospitals across the nation.
Each teen support bag includes a stress ball, a Bite Me Cancer baseball cap, a journal, a water bottle, an Amazon gift card, an adult coloring book, a game book, a Bite Me Cancer car magnet and more.
Bite Me Cancer Foundation is hosting its sixth annual Wine Dinner on April 6, at the Westwood Country Club in Vienna, with funds going toward the organization’s teen support programs. We spoke with Ferraro to discuss the dinner, her personal health journey and her hopes for the foundation. Highlights from our conversation are below.
What inspired you to create the Bite Me Cancer Foundation?
After my diagnosis in April 2010, I almost immediately thought of myself as a “cancer survivor” and wanted to lead a Relay for Life team for the American Cancer Society. The relays were coming up in late May and June, so I wanted to move fast to pull a team together (which I named Bite Me Cancer). Even though my first surgery was coming up in mid-May, I really wanted to do this relay team. My inspiration for the foundation came from this experience. My team of about 35 people gave me great support and the team raised over $20,000! Within a month of that relay experience in June, I started asking my parents for a foundation so I could keep the support going to help others with cancer. After having to beg my parents for a few months, they gave in, and the foundation started in September 2010 as I began my senior year of high school.
What are your personal goals for Bite Me Cancer Foundation?
From the beginning, I really wanted our bags in every state—and we are almost there. I also wanted to make a positive impact on research for thyroid cancer, since it’s been one of the fastest increasing cancers in the country, with a low amount of support. This year, we are raising funds for our seventh grant, so that’s great! I love knowing that my foundation is making a positive impact on so many people.
What’s something you wish more people knew about thyroid cancer?
My family and I never had thought about the thyroid before this cancer came up. The thyroid is a very important organ that runs the whole body. So many people (even some doctors) still say thyroid cancer is the “good cancer” because you might not die from it. But not having a thyroid anymore is a huge deal. For the rest of my life, I have to take a daily pill (or pills) to regulate the thyroid hormones. Also, thyroid cancer can easily spread outside the thyroid if not caught early. There are so many important things close to the thyroid—the trachea, nerves to the diaphragm, the vocal cords and more. Sometimes, patients end up losing some of those things or damaging those things due to the cancer. It happened to me. Also, there are at least five kinds of thyroid cancer.
What do teen cancer patients need the most?
Teen cancer patients need unique support, someone to understand how they are different from the other groups, things to do that are not for kids … even talking to other teens, maybe a special place to hang out in the hospital that isn’t for little kids. They need to have some items to keep occupied.
Tell us about the annual fundraising dinner coming up in April.
The main focus is to raise funds to support and grow our Teen Support Bag program. We send our bags to teenagers who are dealing with cancer. I realized when I was diagnosed at 17 years old that teens fall through the cracks between the pediatric and adult floors and support services. Our bags bring smiles, support and inspiration to these special teenagers. Our bag program has grown from the first bag given out in 2012 to now giving out almost 6,000 bags across the country to teens in over 115 hospitals in 46 states and DC. I will give my annual speech, and we will also have some other speakers who can share their experiences about teens dealing with cancer and their unique challenges.
Tickets to Bite Me Cancer Foundations’ annual fundraising dinner range between $150 to $3,000. Purchase tickets here. // Westwood Country Club: 800 Maple Ave. E., Vienna