In 2009, in the final months of his life, Joe Restaino sat down with his loved ones to create a Legacy List. At age 20, demonstrating his characteristic loyalty and compassion for others, and wisdom well beyond his years, Joe had found his calling in life. His mission was to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer, so that more patients would have a fighting chance to survive and thrive. His list included three goals: to fund a clinical trial, establish an internship program, and advance research to improve cancer treatment.
Soon after Joe was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, he organized the Joe Restaino Bone Cancer Walk with the help of his friends and classmates at the McCallie School in Tennessee. The event, which raised funds for pediatric cancer research at Levine Children’s, where Joe was treated, planted the seeds for what would become a much greater endeavor for his loved ones.
After Joe’s passing in 2010, his parents, Diane and Mike Restaino, organized the inaugural Joedance Film Festival as an ode to Joe’s love of film, and to improve treatment of pediatric sarcomas, blastomas, and brain tumors through clinical research. What began as a modest event, screening only a few films in the Fourth Ward neighborhood of Uptown Charlotte, has since become the only festival of its kind, bringing together countless cancer advocates and filmmakers in a quest to fulfill Joe’s final wishes.
“The first year was a gathering of 15 family members and friends to help us through a difficult time and remember Joe,” shared Diane. “We attached a DVD player to our neighbor’s deck and screened two Sundance films on the side of a townhome; the name ‘Joedance Film Festival’ was born.”
Joe’s Vision Becomes a Reality
Since 2010, the Joedance Film Festival has donated more than $400,000 in philanthropic support for Levine Children’s pediatric cancer program.
“The significance of what the Joedance Film Festival has accomplished for our patients cannot be overstated,” shared Dr. Oesterheld, vice chair of clinical affairs for Atrium Health Levine Children’s-Greater Charlotte Region. “It’s just amazing to see what Diane has done in her son’s memory.”
True to their son’s vision, the Restainos have fulfilled every item on Joe’s Legacy List, including funding a level-III research technician position in the hospital’s pediatric oncology lab; providing local patients with access to cutting-edge clinical trials for pediatric sarcomas, blastomas, and brain tumors; funding multiple cancer research internships; and helping to improve access to innovative treatments and palliative resources to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.
Diane knows all too well the significance of these programs.
“The interns we helped to fund played an important role in gathering information from patients to understand their needs and how they can be more comfortable and at peace,” shared Diane.
Thanks to Joedance, innovative resources are now available to help patients live life to the fullest during treatment, including a backpack program, which allows patients to receive treatment on the go and from the comfort of home, and Healios, a nutrient-based solution provided to patients at risk of developing mouth sores as they go through cancer treatment.
Such resources weren’t available when Joe was being treated, which is why Joedance has been so vital. “We witnessed what Joe went through,” shared Diane, “and we’re so proud to be part of these programs.”
While the Joedance Film Festival officially concluded its 13-year run earlier this year, the Joedance Pediatric Cancer Fund remains an enduring tribute to Joe’s remarkable spirit and devotion to others in the face of cancer. Joe’s legacy and the generosity he inspired will continue to reverberate in the lives of Levine Children’s patients for years to come.