WALLINGFORD — On Aug. 27, the first day of school, several kids throughout the school district wore black t-shirts emblazoned with yellow letters that read “Cole Strong.”
It’s just one way the community is rallying around Cole Geib, a Dag Hammarskjold Middle School eighth-grader who was diagnosed in July with bone cancer in his lower leg.
Cole, who played Little League and Wallingford Cardinals baseball, is undergoing pre-surgery chemotherapy at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
“My leg had hurt for a couple weeks, but we thought it was just growing pains,” he said Friday, after hospital staff began another round of medications, accompanied by his parents, Jen and Stephen Geib.
“A bump started to form over my left leg, and we didn’t think that was right,” he said.
The next day, x-rays and an MRI confirmed Cole had a bone tumor.
“At first, we didn’t really want to let the word out,” Cole said, but after talking it over as a family, he decided to tell family and friends about his diagnosis.
He even returned to the baseball field to watch a game from the bench among his teammates.
“They had all supported me,” he said. “It was amazing.”
Ernie St. Amant has coached Cole in baseball and travel basketball. He’s one of the organizers of a benefit dinner, to be held in October.
“Cole can best be described as my third son,” St. Amant said.
He said friends of the Geib family got together to organize support.
“They’re a very giving, not receiving, family,” St. Amant said. “So many people are stepping up,” and donating everything from gift baskets to corporate gifts of money and services.
Anthony Cretella is one of the family friends working on support projects, including the Cole Strong t-shirts and rubber bracelets.
“Once we decided to do fundraising, we decided that t-shirts were a good way to raise funds and get the word out,” he said.
The t-shirts, with a gold ribbon symbol for children and adolescents with cancer and the words “we’re all in,” were the idea of Jen Geib’s sisters, Cretella said.
“ ‘We’re all in’ is the rallying cry,” Cretella said. “We’re going to get him through it.”
Cole’s treatment consists of 10 weeks of pre-operation chemo and then two weeks of rest before the 12-to-16-hour surgery, called a double bone transport, to take place at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
He’ll rest for a week or so, and then start 17 weeks of post-operation chemo.
“His battle comes first,” Jen Geib said. “Cole worries about powering through. We worry about Cole. And others power the rest.”
While Cole said he wanted to thank everybody, Jen Geib said her response was more emotional that verbal.
“We’ve talked about how amazing it is, and overwhelming, but in a good way,” she said. “It’s really amazing to see not only family and friends but community rally around him. These are people who played with him, taught him, coached him.”
She said the response to Cole’s diagnosis was immediate.
“The next day, people showed up with food, calling to say, ‘what can we do?’” she said.
Both of Cole’s parents work in the insurance industry.
Jen Geib works as an underwriter for Chubb Insurance, and Stephen Geib is an insurance broker at USI Insurance Services’ Connecticut branch.
While they have good insurance, Jen Geib said, they will hit their deductible this year, and expenses add up quickly, including travel to New York for Cole’s surgery, or even full days of parking in New Haven.
The staff at Yale-New Haven, Jen Geib said, have been “truly amazing.”
“We have another little family here,” she said.
They think of creative ways to interact with Cole.
“One day when he was bored, one of the nurses gave Cole a water gun and let him squirt them,” she said.
She said they treat Cole “like one of their own.”
“They’re always teasing or joking with him,” she said. “It’s like being home.”
The benefit dinner is scheduled for 5-9 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Oakdale Theatre, 95 S. Turnpike Road.
Tickets are $40, children younger than 8 are free. For tickets or information contact Cretella at 203-650-1852. Tickets are also available at Shirt Graphix at 198 Center St., Gaetano's Tavern on Main at 40 N. Main St. and Top Notch Dry Cleaning at 736 N. Colony Road.