North Bellmore resident Carsyn Volpe spent Halloween the way no 11-year-old should.
When Carsyn woke up on Oct. 31, the blurry vision he had experienced at school the day before had worsened into total blindness in his right eye. A CT scan and an MRI revealed that a two-inch tumor in the right side of his face was compressing his optic nerve. On Nov. 4, doctors gave the Volpe family a dispiriting diagnosis: Carsyn’s neuroblastoma had relapsed.
The Saw Mill Road sixth-grader was first diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma — a rare form of childhood cancer that affects the central nervous system — in 2011, when he was just 2. After 14 months of extensive treatment, he was declared cancer-free in October 2012, and had been for the past eight years.
“This has changed his whole world,” said Carsyn’s mother, Bernadette Volpe. “In January he’ll start a protocol for relapse — which includes extensive, painful treatments like MIBG therapy and immunotherapy — but until then he’s undergoing three cycles of chemotherapy to hopefully shrink the tumor.”
Knowing he would eventually lose his hair during chemo, Carsyn told his mother he wanted to shave his head. And, much like his cancer battle, he was not alone in that act. On Nov. 16, about 20 families gathered outside The Merge Salon, in North Bellmore, to show their support for Carsyn, and some of his classmates had their heads shaved, too.
The “Brave the Shave” event was organized by the Volpes’ neighbor Melanie Bakay to rally the community around the family. “It’s unbelievable that this has happened to one of our own, so when the news hit, everybody was so eager to help,” Bakay said. “We’re big believers in positivity, and if we can let them know we’re here to keep them strong and keep them going, then that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Merge’s manager, Dawn Pongratz, shaved each participant’s head free of charge. While she buzzed off Carsyn’s hair, his socially distanced friends cheered him on from outside. Each of them brandished a picture of his face pasted on a Popsicle stick — his teacher’s idea.
“Looking at the window covered with my face, I was laughing,” Carsyn said. “It was really nice. It meant a lot.”
Bakay also set up a GoFundMe page called “Courage for Carsyn,” which raised more than $10,000 in less than 24 hours. On the day of the event, she sold ornaments and necklaces sporting the word “Believe” through her nonprofit, Wings of Hope, and 100 percent of the proceeds were donated to the Volpes.
Additionally, Max Branchinelli, the owner of Bramalo Restaurant, in North Bellmore, donated a portion of every order on Nov. 16 when a customer mentioned “Courage for Carsyn” to the family. By the end of the night, the promotion had raised $420, and Branchinelli doubled that total, donating $840 to the cause.
“Carsyn is a warrior and he’s going to beat this,” Bakay said, “and we’ll be there for him every step of the way.”
Although Carsyn started his second round of chemotherapy this week, his mother said that all the love, support and prayers from the community would help him through. “We never thought that our son would mean so much to so many,” she said. “It meant the world to us to see everyone there, and all the support [is] completely amazing.”
To donate to Carsyn’s GoFundMe, visit https://gf.me/u/y68sfm. Apparel showing support is available at https://www.4spiritwear.com/Courage_for_Carsyn.htm.