The North Star

“He saved my life.” Former Naperville North teacher fights cancer

Courtesy of Strong You Are fundraiser

Courtesy of Strong You Are fundraiser

Courtesy of Strong You Are fundraiser

The first thing you see when you walk in Steve Mazzarella’s room is a huge orange and blue “warm and fuzzy,” an Operation Snowball tradition. Mazzarella’s hospital room at Manor Care was adorned with posters made by coworkers and family, one reading “NNHS Loves You, Mazz,” another “Stay Strong Mazz.”

Seven weeks ago, the former Naperville North health teacher and diving coach was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor. The tumor is sitting against his brain stem, making it hard to walk and weakening his body’s left side. The treatment plan created by his doctors at Manor Care Health Services includes physical therapy, aggressive radiation and oral chemotherapy treatment everyday for six weeks, four of which Mazzarella has completed. This week, Mazzarella returned to living at home, and will continue with oral chemotherapy once he is finished with the next two weeks of radiation.  

“I was in disbelief when I heard about the diagnosis… he is someone who has embodied health and taught health, so it is devastating to hear,” Renee Billish, Naperville North health teacher, said.

When former coworkers Renee Billish, Katie Genovesi and Deanna Nesci found out about the diagnosis, their immediate reaction was to find a way to help. They started a YouCaring Fundraiser titled “Strong You Are- Steve Mazzarella’s Fight,” in hopes of mitigating some of the stress that comes along with medical expenses. Donations far surpassed the fundraiser’s initial goal of $5,000, reaching over $15,000 on the first day alone. It hit $32,000 on March 5.

“We started the YouCaring fundraiser so that those he has impacted could show the same love back. The best part is seeing all the messages that have been posted for him,” Genovesi said, who had Mazzarella as a health teacher when she was a student.

An avid marathon runner, Mazzarella began noticing symptoms of the tumor when jogging with friends, and began treatment quickly after diagnosis. The dad to three and grandfather to two said that he’s still trying to wrap his head around dealing with a disease that he had taught about for so long, and that the diagnosis seems surreal at times.

Mazzarella looks to learn more about life everyday, and says that reading people’s messages and seeing visitors helps to keep him in a positive state of mind. He is thankful to have his friends, family, and the Huskie community behind him every step of the way.

“The support is unbelievable, I’m so overwhelmed and eternally grateful to the teachers. They are so passionate about what they do for other people. I want to get back there to thank every person,” Mazzarella said.

Senior Tom Patsavas served on Snowball staff for two seasons with Mazzarella. He said the time they spent together profoundly influenced his life.

“He saved my life. He taught me how to be a leader and how to do it while being kind, he’s such an inspiring role model…. and brought such a welcoming atmosphere to [Snowball] staff,” Patsavas said.

It is clear that the former teacher of 34 years cherishes his time spent at NNHS. His enthusiasm for educating in and out of the classroom as a teacher, coach, and mentor has created lasting friendships and established his legacy at the school as a lifelong learner.

“Love each other, don’t miss those moments when you can take a chance to affirm someone else about how valuable they are in your life,” Mazzarella said.

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About the Writer
Rachel Hale, Managing Editor
Rachel Hale is a Junior at Naperville North and this is her second year working on The North Star staff. She is looking forward to being Managing Editor and is excited to gain more writing and editing experience. In addition to her interest in journalism, Rachel enjoys coaching figure skating and is an Orchesis officer...

13 Responses to ““He saved my life.” Former Naperville North teacher fights cancer”

  1. Lynne rains on March 9th, 2018 6:45 am

    Those of us retired teachers who worked with Mazz know iof his warmth and caring for each student and faculty member. We are ready to assist Mazz in fighting this demon. Each in every way every day I visualize the fight to kill those cancer cells. Miracles happen and Mazz is the one!

  2. Charlotte Mousavi on March 9th, 2018 9:54 pm

    Yess!! Such true words!! Love you Mrs Raines!! Charlotte Mousavi

  3. Victor on March 9th, 2018 7:47 am

    Keep fighting and stay strong God is able GO HUSKIES

  4. Dean Patsavas on March 9th, 2018 8:37 am

    Mazz Thanks for making a difference! In the life of our son and the daughters and son’s of thousands of parents.

  5. anna sarovich on March 9th, 2018 9:03 am

    you helped out with women swimming when I attended there. I graduated in 2005 from North.

  6. Carol Pradel on March 9th, 2018 9:17 am

    We are all behind you and sending you all positive thoughts. I know from experience because I have had cancer 3 times that some days are harder than others. Please know how many people are praying for you and keeping you in their thoughts every day. You are an inspiration and I thank you for all you have done for this beautiful city of Naperville. Officer friendly ( mayor Pradel) is sending you a huge hug and telling you how proud he is of you. Carol

  7. Ted Wagner on March 9th, 2018 11:37 pm

    You made me feel like an old friend within seconds, it seemed, when I met you 14 years ago my first year at North. If such a thing as a cure of love, good vibrations and positive mental attitude exists, you will be its proof. It’s hard for me to imagine an extended family the size of yours, Mazz. And every single one of us is pulling with you now.

  8. Helen Wilczek on March 10th, 2018 10:12 pm

    Thank you for being a great inspiration to all of us students. Thanks for being such an awesome teacher. God bless you and your family.
    Helen, class of ‘83.

  9. Barb Eiserman on March 11th, 2018 8:37 am

    I have always admired you, Mazz. Know that you have influenced so many with your kindness and compassion. I will be praying for you as you fight this fight.

  10. Macy Margherio on March 11th, 2018 6:42 pm

    Thank you for all that you do Mazz, you have impacted the lives of so many people and you have saved more lives than you could probably imagine. You can fight this! We all love you immensely!

  11. Bob Sterr on March 12th, 2018 1:17 pm

    Your old “Ryder Cup” teammate is praying for you. You are added to the “list”. Problem is that the list keeps getting longer and longer. Hang in there and keep fighting. I can assure you that many Tour members have added you to their list also.

  12. Paul Zientarski on March 12th, 2018 2:26 pm


    You were a wonderful part of the health departments at both schools. I wish you the best as you continue your fight.


  13. Nicole Woods on March 15th, 2018 8:12 pm

    Thank you Mazz for inspiring us to be leaders in our community and school. Thank you for reminding us to raise each other up and not down. I hope to leave the same legacy with my students.

    Nicole, Class of 99

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