Chemo Kid’s Dream Comes True

Giovanni “Gino” Goodman (center) pauses to pose with his father, Guglielmo, and his best friend, Mario Cortez, before boarding a plane to Oregon.

Editor’s Note: Giovanni “Gino” Goodman passed away on Dec. 30, 2010, at his home. Here is the story of the fulfillment of his dream, just weeks before his death.

On Dec. 4, Giovanni “Gino” Goodman found himself huddled with his father and best friend amid the bedlam of Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., watching his beloved University of Oregon Ducks crush their rival Oregon State Beavers, 37–20.

For Gino, who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma and just entered NorthBay’s hospice program in November, being at the game was nothing short of a miracle. “It’s been an adrenaline rush I haven’t come down from yet,” recalls Gino, 26.

Gino shared his dream with Veronica Wertz, NorthBay Hospice coordinator, who put the “Dream Team” to work. “It started out small—to see a game,” Veronica says, “and it just blossomed, picked up velocity and before we knew it, so many people, some complete strangers, were doing whatever they could to help.”

And every part of the day seemed to supersede the moment before, Gino says. To finally be able to see the Ducks, and see them live in Oregon, in front row seats at the “Civil War,” and then to get there by private jet; well, it was almost too much. And while all that was great, “the best trick was to be there with my two best friends: my friend, Mario Cortez, and my Dad. It means a lot to me.”

Gino’s day started at 7:30 a.m., when he and the entourage left Vacaville for Buchanan Field in Concord. He had been told they would fly to Corvallis in a private jet, and “I had two notions about that,” he says with a sly smile. “In my head, I thought this could be a rinky-dink plane, or it could be something ‘fancy-swancy.’ And it was fancy. I was in shock. It was the smoothest, fastest flight. We got there in an hour!”

In Corvallis, a waiting van took the group to first pick up the game tickets and then to the stadium. Even though the day was young, Gino was beginning to show signs of fatigue, Veronica recalls, but he refused a wheelchair or even a cane. That was no surprise, she says, as she has come to know this personable young man as one who has sought to live as normal a life as possible, despite his Stage IV non-Hodgkins lymphoma. “He’s so even-keel, such a ‘cool cat,” she says, “always so appreciative and polite.”

The group got to the field early enough to wander among tailgaters and soak in the pre-game atmosphere on a cool, crisp Oregon morning.

Then, in their front-row seats before kick-off, Gino was able to greet some players, shake hands and absorb the whole experience. Despite sitting amidst a sea of orange-and-black-clad OSU fans, they were gracious and Gino, decked out in his green and yellow Duck gear, stood out enough to earn some camera time on ESPN and even an interview.

When the National Anthem was played before the game’s start, Gino’s Dad, Guglielmo, says he found himself overcome with emotion. “I was bawling.”

Despite fatigue, Gino stayed through the last play. “Sometimes the human spirit fuels us enough to just keep going,” Veronica observes.

The game ended with a Duck victory, propelling the team on to the national championship game Jan. 10, which only added to the day’s experience, Gino acknowledges.

And yet there was more. When the group reconvened at a nearby hotel, they were greeted by representatives from the Rose Bowl, Nike and several local politicians. But Gino’s opportunity to pose with the Red Bull girls made him smile at the recollection.

The group then piled back into the van, headed to the airport and back to California. “The experience was incredible,” recalls Foundation Board Member Bob Dias, who as a Dream Team member served as chauffeur for the group.

“The whole day was a metaphor for a football game, where you’re on the field, receive the ball, make a run for it despite all the obstacles, and get a touchdown.”

The best part of the whole experience? “The anticipation before you go. I was wondering what it would be like to see the game, what it would be like to be in a private jet. It was a wonderful experience and I felt like royalty. Everyone treated me really well, I was touched,” Gino says.

Gino’s dream was the 15th to be realized by the Dream of a Lifetime program since it was begun in 2009. And, while his evolved into a logistical miracle thanks to many generous benefactors, most requests have had more simple outcomes: a family portrait, a catered meal, or a flight home for one last visit.

Goodman was almost 21 when he was diagnosed, and it came on the heels of losing his mother to cancer. In the past five years, he
has undergone numerous chemotherapy treatments and two bone marrow transplants.

While seeking a donor for the second transplant, it was discovered that Gino’s sister, Gabriella, was suffering from a rare disease which meant she could not donate, even though they were a perfect match.

Gino, a jazz musician and hip-hop artist, has turned to music to express his feelings throughout the experience. Called “The Chemo Kid,” his music has been heard in clubs, on the radio and on YouTube. He hopes by sharing his story with others, it will help give them a different outlook in their battle.

“I hope to give other cancer patients a glimpse into what they could be doing, instead of what most are doing. They should be out enjoying life. It doesn’t hurt to party once in a while.”

Dream of a Lifetime

Gino Goodman, Nancy Orloff, Frances Demerin and Nina Gaston and their families were recipients of the NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement’s Dream of a Lifetime program that grants wishes of the terminally ill. Begun in 2009, this is one of the few programs nationwide that fulfill the final dreams of adults.

To find out more about this special program and its rules and guidelines, call (707) 646-3575.

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