Pivik Elementary third grader Joey Byrnes is a superhero to his family, classmates and teachers.
It’s not because he has super strength or heat vision or jumps over tall buildings in one go.
He has the power of positivity and a strong will. The Plum student recently completed his final chemotherapy treatment in a two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer.
Joey, known as “JoeNado” to family and friends, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2019. It is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the disease is the most common cancer in children.
It progresses quickly and creates immature blood cells, rather than mature ones. Symptoms include fever, frequent or severe nosebleeds, frequent infections, pale skin, shortness of breath, weakness, and fatigue.
Joey’s mother, Jean Byrnes, said he has some time before he is officially declared a cancer survivor, including five years of checkups, because of the possibility of a relapse.
“For the most part, he’s done with treatment and therapy,” she said.
The family and school celebrated the milestone Friday.
Joey “JoeNado” Byrnes celebrates with classmates, staff and family at Pivik Elementary in Plum after recently completing his final chemotherapy treatments. pic.twitter.com/wOhVqxWnKU
— Mike D. (@MikeJdiVittorio) Dec 10, 2021
It was also a superhero day to raise cancer awareness. Some students dressed up as their favorite characters.
Students gestured, chanting “Joey, Joey” and “ring the bell” as part of Friday’s celebration.
“They’ve rallied 100% around him,” said teacher Carissa Yuhasz. “In my class we always say we are a family. We were more than happy to celebrate our family… We made it ‘Joey Day’, and we let him have a nice day and let this all be about him.”
The family took pictures together at the main entrance to the Pivik before going outside to hear the cheers of the crowd.
“(We’re) happy to be at this point and to see all the support they’ve shown us throughout the journey,” said Joey’s father, Bob Byrnes. “There’s just so much we’ve had to do. It was certainly difficult at times, but his mentality and attitude just made it easy. He is always positive and cheerful.
“He feels great now. There must have been a few days where he got sick from the medication and things like that, but at this point he’s actually almost a normal kid again.”
One of Joey’s favorite heroes is Captain America. He wore a mask on Friday with the Marvel icon’s shield on it.
Students, staff and guests must wear face masks in school buildings.
“I like it, and I didn’t see it coming,” Joey said of his special day.
The nickname “JoeNado” was coined by his grandmother, Regina Byrnes.
What was once a description of a child’s hyper-energetic whirlwind has since become a cry for strength.
“When he was younger, he came over and we babysat him,” recalls Regina Byrnes. “My house would be torn apart (by the time) he left. I’m like, ‘You’re like a tornado. You’re JoeNado.’ He hated it at first, but when we got cancer, we said, ‘We need JoeNado to get out’, because we needed him to tear this cancer apart. After that, he loved it.”
Friends of Regina Byrnes’ work, Shaw Sports Turf, drew a picture of what Joey would look like as said superhero. It resembles Red Tornado, the DC Comics character of the same name.
She praised the district students and staff for all they’ve done for Joey.
“They did everything right and made him feel so involved and supported,” said Regina Byrnes.
Yuhasz said she met Joey two years ago when he was first diagnosed.
The district was able to support the family through Kids That Care, a service organization that Yuhasz and fourth grade teacher Melissa Bradfield founded to help improve their school and community.
They held several family fundraisers, including one where students shaved the heads of male teachers.
“It’s really cool to see how it came full circle because now I’m his teacher,” Yuhasz said. “I didn’t even know him then. He really is the coolest guy I’ve ever met. For someone who has fought for what he has, he has the best sense of humor and the best smile. He is really an inspiration.”
Joey’s mom held back the tears as she filmed the party outside on her phone.
“(It’s) overwhelming, but full of joy,” Jean Byrnes said.
Pivik Elementary student Joey “JoeNado” Byrnes leaves Plum School in a limousine escorted by council fire trucks as part of a Friday afternoon party. pic.twitter.com/m0eMIXn8E3
— Mike D. (@MikeJdiVittorio) Dec 10, 2021
The family left in a limousine, accompanied by a large number of Plum fire trucks. They went to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to meet other families from the Children’s Hospital and to cut the hair of Cal Adomitis, the longsnapper on the University of Pittsburgh football team.
Adomitis, who wears the number 94 on the football field, helped raise $94,000 for childhood cancer care at Children’s this year.
Joey has a message for all other children battling cancer and other diseases.
“You can win,” he said.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, email@example.com or via Twitter.