IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

4-year-old cancer survivor reunites with favorite nurse: ‘She’s our angel on earth’

Rocco and his nurse Cassie Dematteis shared a special bond.

When Gabrielle DiMaggio of Staten Island, New York, brought her son, Rocco, to the doctor in May 2020, she thought he had COVID-19. But Rocco, just 2 and a half years old at the time, was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare cancer affecting the nervous system.

"The physician assistant came back and said, 'We just wanted you to know that we’ve contacted the oncology team.' And that was the moment that I knew that our lives were about to change," DiMaggio told TODAY. "We went from one day celebrating him being potty trained to the next day having to fight cancer with him."

Courtesy Gabriella DiMaggio

The mother and son had to be rushed in an ambulance straight to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. It was there that they met pediatric oncology nurse Cassie DeMatteis.

"Sometimes I can’t even say her name without crying," DiMaggio recalled. "I say Cassie is our angel on Earth. She truly is. That’s what she is to us."

Courtesy Gabriella DiMaggio

During Rocco's treatment, DeMatteis stayed by his side. She played Spider-Man with him and held him when things got scary. With DeMatteis in his corner, Rocco went through five rounds of chemotherapy, two major surgeries and the removal of his kidney.

"She had all this energy. She literally lit up the room," DiMaggio said. When she walked in, DiMaggio knew things would be OK.

Courtesy Gabriella DiMaggio

Today, Rocco is a healthy, happy and affectionate 4-year-old who loves to ride his electric scooter. And he was overjoyed to see DeMatteis again.

What's DeMatteis' secret? "It’s smiling and being there for the kids, and connecting with the families," she told TODAY co-anchor Hoda Kotb. She considers it "the greatest honor" to be able to help kids in this way, she said. "And I’m privileged to go through it with them."

"To watch (Rocco) grow up and to know we’ll be close from now until forever, too, it’s amazing," she added.