Nutley bowler Lentini tackling biggest foe: leukemia

Photo by Jim Hague Nutley resident Francesca Lentini is not about to let a bout with leukemia get her down. She is currently in remission and competed in the Valerie Fund Walk to help raise money last Saturday.
Photo by Jim Hague
Nutley resident Francesca Lentini is not about to let a bout with leukemia
get her down. She is currently in remission and competed in the Valerie Fund
Walk to help raise money last Saturday.

Francesca Lentini is a vibrant, alive, energetic freshman at Nutley High School. Lentini is a member of the Nutley girls’ bowling team that won the Essex County Tournament championship this past season.

At one time in her life, Lentini also played softball and thought about trying out for the volleyball team. She’s also an accomplished dancer.

But a little over a year ago, Lentini’s active life came to a crashing halt.

“At first, I just felt very tired all the time,” Lentini said. “The doctors did a blood test, then told me what was wrong.”

The diagnosis was leukemia. At just 13 years old, Lentini faced the crossroads of her life.

“When I heard the word, I thought I was going to die,” Lentini said. “It was the worst thing that I could hear. I was very scared.”

So was Lentini’s father, Joe. He didn’t want to conjure the thought of his younger daughter having acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).

“I figured we were in for a struggle,” Joe Lentini said. “We were blindsided by the news. But the doctors all said that it was very curable.”

One main doctor was Dr. Peri Kamalakar at Newark’s Beth Israel Hospital.

“He assured us that it was treatable,” Lentini said of Kamalakar. “He assured us that everything was going to be fine. I really developed a lot of faith in him.”

As soon as word got out that Francesca indeed had leukemia, the Nutley community rallied together to help.

“The outpouring of people that were here was tremendous,” Lentini said. “It was really amazing. There were so many people who came up to me to tell me that the same thing happened to their son or their daughter. I had so many friends here, assuring me that everything was going to be all right.”

Local real estate giant Louis Del Forno reached out to Joe Lentini (who also works in the real estate field) and confided in Lentini that he had a 4-year-old daughter who had ALL and recovered nicely.

Joe and Nancy Lentini went to get a second opinion about their daughter, going to Hackensack Medical Center.

“The doctors there told me that Francesca was already in good hands,” Lentini said.

So Francesca had the perfect attitude.

“Whatever it takes, it has to be,” Francesca Lentini said. “I thought, ‘Let’s get it over with.”

The procedure was gruesome. Young Francesca had to have a port inserted into her chest in order to allow the highest dosages possible to enter her system to ward off the hideous disease. She had to undergo at least 15 spinal taps, a very painful approach. She was quarantined, first in the hospital, then in the family’s Nutley home, for 16 months.

“I didn’t get to see my friends,” Francesca Lentini said. “When I saw someone, I had to make sure that they were not sick, nor any members of their family. I knew I was going to beat this. I knew that I was going to get better.”

The Lentini family was directed to reach out to the people who run the Valerie Fund, the charity organization that helps children stricken with cancer cope with the illness in many different ways.

So in order to give back to the Valerie Fund, Francesca and her older sister 16-year-old Gabriella, a member of the Nutley crew team, formed a fund-raising team that would participate in the annual Valerie Fund 5K Run and Mile Walk.

“Gabriella and my mother are doing the run and I’m doing the walk,” Francesca Lentini said.

The “Faniacs,” the name of the team, raised close to $2,000 in pledges and sponsorships for the run and walk, which was held Saturday in Verona. The Nutley crew team was helpful in raising money to honor the sister of one of their own.

“It was very important for me to show my support,” Francesca Lentini said. “After all the Valerie Fund has done for us, this was the least I could do.”

More importantly, Francesca is currently in remission. The cancer could very well be gone, but no one will know for sure, but Francesca knows the date when she will know. “February 28, 2016,” Francesca Lentini says boldly. “That’s the day. I know it.”

Francesca is trying to live her normal life again.

“I’m well on the way to recovery,” Francesca said. “I loved being a part of the girls’ bowling team. I think I’m alright as a bowler, but I was part of the team.”

“There are no words to describe this,” Joe Lentini said. “She’s done terrific. She’s a trouper, a real fighter.”

Francesca then scolded her father.

“Don’t cry, Dad,” she said.

It was hard for Joe not to get emotional.

“From the beginning, she said she was going to beat this,” Joe Lentini said. “I always kept the faith. She’s just such a good kid.”

That’s obvious.

Francesca has another passion. It’s for cooking and watching cooking shows.

One of her favorite shows is hosted by Laura Vitale on the Cooking Channel. The show is called “Simply Laura,” and it airs Monday nights at 10:30 p.m. She also has a popular website which is

Well, someone tipped Vitale off about Francesca and her love for cooking. So what happened? Last October, Laura Vitale came to Nutley and paid a visit to the Lentini home to cook with Francesca.

“We made chili stuffed peppers and a Nutella soufflé for dessert,” Francesca said.

Seems as if Lentini might be on the way to becoming a TV cooking chef as well, but first, she’ll have to finish high school and continue to bowl for the Maroon Raiders. She has three years of that remaining. Just thinking about the future has to be a miracle for the Lentini family.

“I hope I’m an inspiration to others,” Francesca said. “I’d like to be.”

There still is time to make a donation to the Valerie Fund for this year’s campaign. Log on to and click on Team Faniacs to help donate to help Francesca Lentini. You can even click on her name so the donation goes in her name. It’s a great cause.

Learn more about the writer ...

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”