Ocala, Florida — Remember that MTV show “My Super Sweet 16?” You know, the show about the unappreciative spoiled brats who treated their parents with the utmost respect (sense the sarcasm) and felt they were entitled to everything?
Well, this story is not about that.
While most teens turning 16 wish for cars and lavish parties, a Florida teen was doing just the opposite.
Brittany R. DeMeola, 16, of Ocala, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 1999 when she was just 6 months old.
Neuroblastoma is a rare type of cancer that typically affects infants and young children. It is a solid tumor that is formed by neuroblasts, which are special nerve cells. When neuroblastoma is diagnosed in infancy, the chance of recovery is good. About 700 new cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed each year in the United States.
When she was diagnosed, her doctors at UF Health Shands Hospital originally believed that the cancer was stage 1. However, during surgery it was learned that her cancer was actually stage 3.
Brittany’s parents, Mike and Karen DeMeola, were devastated; as was the entire family.
Following surgery, Brittany was required to undergo multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Her parents took countless trips back and forth to Shands Hospital.
At times, they said it seemed like there was never going to be a light at the end of the tunnel, but even as they watched their daughter get sick from the chemo and saw her hair fall out, they never gave up hope. With endless support from family members, they somehow found the strength to hold on to the possibility that their daughter would one day be cancer-free.
Then, after a year and a half of chemo treatments, many prayers, and what seemed like endless sleepless nights, they received the news they had been longing to hear. After a year and a half of tears and worrying, Brittany was declared cancer-free.
Everything was just getting back to normal for the family before they received more bad news.
In 2003, Mike’s mother — Brittany’s grandmother — Nancy DeMeola was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a huge blow for this extremely close Irish-Italian family.
Nancy’s cancer eventually spread to her lungs, and as with Brittany, she underwent extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Her treatments were so aggressive that they led to other health issues.
Her family said that even though she was often sick, she never let it show in front of her 12 grandchildren.
The family said that in December of 2012, Nancy, who had COPD, got an infection in her lungs. On December 28, 2012, at approximately 1 a.m., her daughter, who is a nurse and lives a few blocks away, received a frantic call from her dad. He said Nancy could not breathe and he needed help. When the daughter arrived she immediately knew she had to call 911.
Nancy was rushed to Ocala Regional Medical Center by Marion County Fire Rescue.
Once at the hospital, Nancy was placed on a ventilator and held on to life for nine days. She waited until she was transported to her home by hospice before she would give up her fight.
She passed away on January 6, 2013, in the comfort of her own home.
The family said they were completely blindsided. Namely because there were no warning signs that Nancy had an infection.
Brittany was 13 years old when her grandmother passed away. A short time later, she lost a good friend to cancer.
“I had had enough. After my 15th birthday I told my dad I wanted to do something more. I told him I wanted to help families in Marion County that were going through the same thing I went through,” Brittany said. “While I was too young to remember when I had cancer, I know [that] time in my life made a big impact on me.”
Brittany told her dad that she wanted to start a foundation that could allow her to give back to the community.
Brittany said, “I want to be able to help families financially and emotionally. People need to know that there is hope.”
She said that when she and her father talked about it, she thought it would just be talk.
“I never thought anything would actually ever come of my ideas,” Brittany said. “I even had a name picked out for the foundation.”
Brittany said she chose the name “Rosie Posie” because her middle name is “Rose” and when she was little her family used to call her “Brittany Rosie Posie.”
Then, in January of 2015, Brittany’s father made it happen and the “Rosie Posie Foundation, INC.” was born.
Brittany, who just turned 16, said that she wanted to have a Sweet 16 party, but she wanted it to be something meaningful as well as unforgettable.
“I wanted to have a party that would have an impact on others,” Brittany said.
And she did just that.
Brittany, along with her mom and dad, planned her Sweet 16 “Party with a Purpose” to benefit the “Rosie Posie Foundation.”
Her parents booked the Munroe Regional Medical Center Auxiliary Center and allowed Brittany to invite her friends and all of her family.
But what made this party different from others?
It could be the fact that Brittany instructed her guests not to bring gifts. Instead, Brittany told her guests that in lieu of gifts, she wanted them to make a donation to the foundation.
Brittany even landed several local businesses as sponsors.
“My Sweet 16 party was just my first step toward making a big impact on others,” Brittany said.
Brittany said that families whose children are currently being treated at Shands have already reached out to the foundation. She said it is a wonderful feeling to know she can help others.
“Helping families is just one example of how I plan to make a difference. My second task is to improve the Shands Pediatric Oncology play room; the same room I played in while I was going through treatments in 1999,” Brittany said. She added, “I plan to accomplish [that] task soon.”
“But, I could not have accomplished anything up to this point without the help from my family and my business sponsors,” Brittany said. “First, I would like to thank my mom, my dad, and God for everything they have given me.”
“Secondly, I would also like to thank my sponsors, Black Tie and Blue Jeans DJs, Bear Archery, Brooklyn’s Backyard, BB Graphics, Ford Orthodontics, Ausley Construction, Dean & Dean Law Firm, MRMC Auxiliary, and last but not least, Gilligan, Gooding and Franjola Law Firm.” Brittany added, “And thank you to all of my friends and guests who attended my party and helped make the night so special.”
Brittany said she is also thankful that she has been cancer-free for the past 15 years.
Brittany’s family said they were amazed by her decision and could not be more proud of her.
If you would like to learn more about the “Rosie Posie Foundation,” how to help make a difference, or simply give them a thumbs up, you can visit the Foundation’s Facebook page.