Frankfort teen, cancer survivor pins down a bright future
BY CHERYL DANGEL BARTOLINI Correspondent June 22, 2012 2:32PM
Joey Allegretti, a leukemia survivor, poses at Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort. He will be attending U of I’s Business Honors Program in the fall and he plans to become an accountant. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 26, 2012 6:00AM
Joey Allegretti and his classmates at Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort graduated earlier this month.
But during his four years there, Allegretti has had much bigger things to celebrate than earning a high school diploma. It was more than two years ago that Allegretti was told he was cancer-free after being diagnosed with leukemia five years ago.
Allegretti, an athlete throughout his youth, was halfway through eighth grade when he began having problems breathing. Thinking he had bronchitis, he figured a planned warm-weather family vacation in Florida might help cure it.
“We went to the Orange Bowl (in Miami) five years in a row and thought it would help, but I still had problems breathing,” Allegretti said. “Late one night, I couldn’t sleep or breathe. So we went to Miami Children’s Memorial Hospital and a chest X-ray revealed a large mass blocking my airway.”
Allegretti was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common type of cancer in children, according to mayoclinic.com.
“It was definitely the last thing on my mind,” Allegretti said. “I went to see an allergist for many years, so I just thought it was a bad cold.”
While he was being treated in Miami, Allegretti was told he would never be able to participate in sports again.
“Sports was a huge thing in my life, something me and my family would do together,” he said.
But doctors at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital later said he could go about his normal life as long as he felt up to it.
Ultimately, Allegretti missed most of the second half of eighth grade. He underwent chemotherapy, and fortunately for him, it went well.
“The tumor shrank right away and I responded to the medicine, which increased my chance of survival,” he said.
A month later, the tumor was gone, but the cancer remained. He continued with chemotherapy, first once a week, then once a month, for three years. He finished his last treatment in January 2010 and now just gets regular blood tests to make sure everything is OK.
Through it all, Allegretti remained a dedicated student-athlete at Lincoln-Way East. He ranked among the top 10 students in his class academically, and was a star wrestler and a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
In a couple of months, Allegretti, 19, will be attending the University of Illinois, where he has been accepted into the business honors program. He plans to major in accounting and will be rooming with his best friend, Chad Elliott, of Frankfort.
“After five years, I’ll have a bachelor’s and master’s in accounting,” said Allegretti, who plans to get a summer internship after his sophomore year.
He wants to be hired by a big company. His parents, Carl and Tammy Allegretti, of Frankfort, both are accountants.
“My parents have kept me on the right track,” he said. “They help me with my studying and encourage me to work harder. There were times when I needed to study or get some rest and they helped me stay focused.”
Allegretti credits a former wrestling coach, Jimmy Brasher, for teaching him how to push through adversity. Brasher coached Allegretti in wrestling in junior high for the Vittum Cats, based out of Stagg High School in Palos Hills.
“Whether I was feeling well or not, he pushed me, and I won a state championship,” Allegretti said. “I still keep in touch with him. He is like an older brother to me.”
Allegretti also looks up to Lincoln-Way East head wrestling coach Tyrone Byrd.
“He kept me going my freshman year when I was going through treatments and didn’t feel well,” Allegretti said. “He had me push forward and has always been there for me, so I want to keep in touch with him going forward. He has helped turn me into a man.”
Allegretti said his younger brother, Nicky, 15, also is his inspiration.
“I just want to set an example for him, and that helps me focus,” he said.
When it was suggested that Allegretti might be the one inspiring others, he modestly said, “I feel like everyone has their things to overcome in life. This brought my family a lot closer. Now I don’t think a lot about it since it is gone from my life.”
But, he said, “It made me appreciate all the small things in life and I have a much more mature outlook on life than most kids my age.”