Brielle Furci didn’t want an extravagant Sweet 16 party.
A weekend in New York City with close friends, filled with shopping, a spa day, and “a lot” of eating would more than suffice for the Yorktown sophomore.
Spending her big day in a hospital room while battling Stage 3 ovarian cancer was not on her short list of plans.
Furci was initially diagnosed with fibroids, or benign tumors in the uterus. Further testing revealed the tumors were malignant, which Furci found out just under a month before her birthday.
After the diagnosis, all plans for her 16th birthday moved the to backburner.
“My absolute first thought was, ‘Am I going to die?’ ” said Furci, a girls lacrosse player, via email.
Then came disbelief and denial.
“I’m a 16-year-old athlete — I don’t actually have cancer,” she told herself.
Then came fear.
“I wasn’t educated (about the cancer), so I didn’t know what to expect or what was coming or the plan of action.”
Then came anger.
“I was just angry at everyone and everything,” she said. “I can’t quite describe the unique anger that comes with such news.”
Then, finally, acceptance … for a little while.
“I came to accept my diagnosis, thinking I would be fine after just a surgery,” she said. “Receiving news that chemotherapy would be necessary was like starting back at the beginning with my strings of emotions.”
The Yorktown community wasted no time in rallying around her, donating more than $30,000 to Furci’s GoFundMe page within a week of her father, Carmine, setting it up on Sept. 7.
As of Nov. 16, the page has raised over $67,000 from more than 700 donors.
“I am more shocked by the fact that over (700) people have donated, read my story, and left me some amazing comments than the amount of money raised,” Furci said. “I know that I have raised awareness and hope that one woman somewhere that has read my story thinks twice when begging to skip her gynecologist appointment.”
The school rallied around Furci — from teammates, to friends, to those who didn’t even know her too well.
“I heard what happened and just felt like there was something I needed to do,” said Yorktown senior Thomas Donatelli, co-leader of the Huskers’ boisterous student fan section commonly known as “The Crop.”
Donatelli and co-Crop leader Anthony Souza organized a “Blue Out for Brielle” theme the night of Yorktown’s football game against rival John Jay on Sept. 12. The group was originally going to do a red, white, and blue theme in honor of 9/11.
The Huskers football team wore blue ribbon stickers on their helmets, and the Yorktown bleachers were flooded with baby blue paraphernalia by students, including Furci.
“I do not think I will ever forget it,” she said. “Being a 16-year-old girl, I was worried what people would think or say when they finally did see me without my signature long brown hair.
Furci said that night put everything in perspective for her.
“Nobody put on a blue shirt and went out to that game because they like my hair, they went for me,” she said. “That realization really helped me accept the fact that I would lose my hair and I felt more confident about it.”
The Yorktown volleyball team made 100 “Fight Like A Girl” wristbands in honor of Furci, to be sold at their annual tournament on Sept. 19. The lot was gone in less than an hour.
Huskers head coach Katy Sherwood said there was no set price, and that the team simply asked for “donations.” The final tally came out to more than $500.
Yorktown principal Joseph DeGennaro said that seeing Furci’s strength, courage, and maturity through the ordeal has been moving.
“It most certainly hits home for me as a dad, as it would any parent,” said DeGennaro, a father of three, the oldest of whom is a daughter a few years older than Furci. “It is difficult not to personalize this situation.”
Furci’s days are now spent running in and out of hospitals instead of up and down the lacrosse field, but those hospital visits may be winding down. Furci started the third of four planned 21-day cycles of chemotherapy treatments on Nov. 9.
“I feel great,” she said. “I’m eager to be done.”
The experience has given Furci a new view on life.
“I am a completely different person than I was yesterday, last month, and two months ago,” she said. “Emotionally I have been OK, in control. Of course, once in a while I just want to cry or scream, but I am positive for the most part. I would say I have a good attitude about all of this.”
Furci said she is thankful for the people in her life, and the people of Yorktown.
“All of the support I have received from the Yorktown community just shows how we are all family. Everyone helps each other and no matter what or who, family helps family,” she said. “I’ve heard of communities being supportive, but no other town can compare to Yorktown. The outreach of true kindness, compassion, and selflessness is beyond that of any other place that I can imagine.”