Mother Starts Charity to Fulfill Cancer-Survivor Daughter’s Dancing Dreams

Mother Starts Charity to Fulfill Cancer-Survivor Daughter’s Dancing Dreams

Susan Vincent with a young patient at University of California Los Angeles's Mattel Children's Hospital.

Andréa Rizzo at 7 years old.

Susan Vincent visits with a patient at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Carrie Ann Inaba, a judge on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" and national celebrity spokesperson for Dréa's Dream, visiting with a patient at University of Los Angeles's Mattel Children's Hospital.

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#DailyPointofLight Susan Rizzo founded @DreasDream in honor of her daughter, to provide dance therapy to children:
Thursday, June 29, 2017 - 11:30am

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Susan Rizzo Vincent faced the worst fear of any parent when her daughter was just 18 months old: the risk of losing a child. 

“She was a normal 18-month-old and then all of the sudden I noticed her hands shake a little bit as we were eating dinner and then within hours her coordination just declined. By the next morning, she really couldn’t sit up or even crawl. She’d lost all of her motor coordination within 24 hours,” Susan said.

Susan’s daughter Andréa was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an often deadly form of cancer that mostly affects infants and young children. When Andréa was diagnosed in 1979, Susan was told there was less than a 1 percent chance of survival. Thanks to the medical staff of Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York, Andréa was cured through chemotherapy and spared radiation. In spite of all of that adversity, Andréa survived and thrived. Though regaining her coordination took a few years, Andréa found both the antidote to an escape from her coordination struggles through dance.

Susan explained that the only residual difficulties Andréa faced were minor learning disabilities. School was hard for her and that attacked her confidence – but she loved dance and she was good at it, which helped her confidence grow.

Andréa danced all through grade school and college. She also kept with her an awareness of how lucky she’d been. While working on a project in college, she took a deeper look into the disease that threatened her earliest years, learning just how often neuroblastoma is fatal. Andréa fully believed that by curing her, Memorial Sloane Kettering had performed a miracle and that dance was the key to overcoming all of the obstacles that followed. She decided she wanted to give back in the best way she could to the hospital that saved her.

After graduating from college with certifications in both elementary education and special education, she went on to NYU to begin graduate studies in dance therapy. Her dream was to become a dance therapist and work with kids who had special needs and cancer.

That dream, unfortunately, was never realized. On May 19, 2002, Andréa Rizzo was on her way home from a dance performance and was killed by a drunk driver. Susan was devastated but credits a group of compassionate friends and colleagues for helping her through it.

“One of Andréa’s colleagues approached me and said let’s start a foundation in Andréa’s name. She wanted to be a dance therapist, somehow maybe we can provide dance therapy to children,” said Susan.

Read the full story on the Points of Light blog.