Peter Castellino’s story of overcoming odds is a story his mother Nancy VanDermark has shared countless times over the years.
Now, the Harding native is sharing that story with everybody in her new book “Mountain Hawk — I Won’t Give Up” which details the trials Peter and his family went through after he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.
ALL is a type of cancer where the body’s bone marrow makes too many immature white blood cells. While the average child has between 5,000 and 10,000 white blood cells, Peter’s blood test showed he had a white blood cell count of 395,000, and that count was doubling every 12 hours.
“Without treatment, he would have had two months to live,” VanDermark said. “It (the leukemia) was in 95 percent of his body, including his brain and spinal chord.”
Peter was diagnosed at the age of 6 when he began showing symptoms on his last day of school — the exact date of June 8, 1988, as VanDermark recalled.
“He had a cold that lingered,” she said. “He was feeling tired and lethargic, but we thought it was the lingering cold. On the last day of school, the field trip was to the ice cream parlor and I couldn’t wait for him to get home from school. I said, ‘How was your field trip?’ and he said, ‘My legs hurt.’ It was followed by a loss of appetite that day.”
Peter was seen in the emergency room of Nesbit Memorial Hospital in Kingston that night, but was later sent to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) where the family was given the devastating news.
VanDermark said they spent the entire summer of 1988 in the hospital with Peter as he underwent chemotherapy.
She credits her ex-husband Frank Castellino with being the rock of the family as he would work during the day, go home to be with Peter’s younger sister Helena, drive to Philadelphia to be with Peter and then drive home again.
“Frank Castellino is the unsung hero in this story,” VanDermark said. “Peter’s father was a rock who never missed a doctor’s appointment, chemotherapy session and was always there when needed. He managed a business (Atlas Insurance Agency) and a terminally ill child.”
Helena was also by her brother’s side a lot, VanDermark said, twice cutting her own hair for Locks of Love to support not only her brother, but all cancer patients.
Peter eventually overcame the odds and accomplished much after his cancer was cured. He played football for the Wyoming Area Warriors, raised $5,000 by running in the San Diego Rock N’ Roll Marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and graduated from Lehigh University where he was also the school mascot, the Mountain Hawk.
“All of the money came from the Greater Pittston area,” said VanDermark, who now lives in Delaware. “My deepest, deepest gratitude, forever, to the Greater Pittston residents. They’re the most wonderful, loving, neighbors and friends that I’ve ever known, everywhere I’ve lived.”
Today, Peter is 36, living a healthy life and working as the Global Marketing Manager for Promethean, a company that develops interactive technologies for education.
“He lives a very happy life and is a person who really is grateful for the joy he finds in every day,” VanDermark said. “When Peter calls me, he makes me laugh. He’s quite unique.”
VanDermark’s book “Mountain Hawk — I Won’t Give Up” is available online, but hard copies may be obtained for free through the website www.NancyVanDermark.com.
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher