AK orchestra raises money for a fighting cause

“No One Fights Alone.” That’s the silent chant for students at Ardrey Kell High School and junior Nick Menendez, who for nearly a year and a half has been battling leukemia.

(Above, from left) Zack and Nick Menendez with orchestra teacher Amanda Turner of Ardrey Kell. The school has been raising money for Nick’s medical treatments.

(Above, from left) Zack and Nick Menendez with orchestra teacher Amanda Turner of Ardrey Kell. The school has been raising money for Nick’s medical treatments.

The 17-year-old has been home bound for more than a year, after bouncing in and out of doctor’s offices and receiving a final diagnosis March 2012. But through what has been a trying time in Nick’s life, orchestra members at the school are making sure he is not forgotten as the Ardrey Kell family holds up one of its own.

Nick’s fight began in December 2011, when the Ardrey Kell nurse called Nick’s family after noticing his face was drooping on one side. Doctor’s diagnosed Nick with Bell’s Palsy, prescribing him steroids to correct the problem.

But after three rounds of steroids, in January 2012 his face was still drooping, this time on both sides, Cindy Menedez, Nick’s mom, said.

“So we took him to see a neurologist,” Menedez, a breast cancer survivor, said. “But he was extremely sick – nauseous, terrible headaches. He even spent four to five days at the Levine’s Children’s hospital. They ran tests, but then sent him home with no concrete diagnosis.”

The last time Nick attended school was at the end of January 2012, over the next couple of weeks spending time in and out of the hospital. In March, Nick’s parents were alarmed when their son woke up with one pupil dilated.

“We took him to the (emergency room). They admitted him immediately. They did another spinal tap on him and found the leukemia,” Cindy Menendez said.

The family received Nick’s official diagnosis March 22, 2012 – a mom’s worst nightmare, she said.

“From January to February, we just kept saying ‘If we knew what we were fighting, it would make things easier,’” Nick’s mom said. “But the day you hear your child has leukemia, your heart just breaks. But certainly knowing what we were tackling made the fear of the unknown go away.”

In the meantime, inclusion in the orchestra at the school was still important to Nick and teacher Amanda Turner, who has worked to include Nick in every concert and field trip as his health permits. Nick also was heavily involved with the Marine Corps ROTC at Ardrey Kell. Both groups have worked to support Nick through his illness.

In December 2012, Nick and his family were able to attend the orchestra’s winter concert, where Nick was hardly recognizable to many of the students who knew him. Bound to a wheelchair at the time and with little hair on his head, his friends saw the reality of Nick’s illness and decided to help.

“In January, the president of string orchestra, Lily Shore, came to me and asked if we could do something,” Turner, Nick’s orchestra teacher, said. “So she came up with the idea of the bands/bracelets and the phrase ‘No One Fights Alone.’ We talked about it in class and all of the 120 kids were willing to sell – freshmen through seniors; even the kids that didn’t know him.”

So the orchestra boosters ordered 400 bracelets in honor of Nick to be sold for $5 a piece. On Tuesday, May 14, the Ardrey Kell orchestra presented the Menendez family with a check of $1,403 to go toward Nick’s medical bills.

“I cannot begin to express my appreciation to the school and to Lily Shore. They will never know what they’ve done for Nick and our family. Even with insurance, the financial burden is unbelievable,” Cindy Menedez said.

“Nicholas has had onset paralysis and has really been bound by wheelchair, my assistance or his younger brother Zach’s assistance. There are days where he feels very disconnected from his peer group. I think there are days that he feels like no one remembers him, but then you have days like this, where the orchestra folks go out of their way to remember him.”

Currently, Nick’s health has been on the uptick, Cindy Menendez said. He’s still taking chemotherapy, but also is learning to walk again. She said the phrase “No One Fights Alone” couldn’t be truer in Nick’s situation, as the family has been blessed with a community of people fighting on Nick’s behalf. His brother, Zach, a sophomore at Ardrey Kell, even has plans to walk for Nick in this year’s Relay For Life Ballantyne event on May 31.

“He has had some really difficult times and there have been days that he has said ‘Mom, I don’t want to fight anymore,’” Cindy Menendez said. “But overall, he has been amazingly strong. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be 17 years old and have to go through this.”

The school still has about 100 bracelets to sell, Turner said. To buy a bracelet or to make a donation, email Turner at amanda.turner@cms.k12.nc.us.

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