When it came to building, Bob the Builder couldn’t lift a hammer to Julian Serafin.
His passion for Jenga, Legos and Minecraft always kept the 8-year-old building something great, even after the P.S. 24 Spuyten Duyvil student was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor that spreads from the brain to the spinal cord.
Julian died last July, but thanks to his mother and the West 236th Street school, his memory will never.
Julian was a jokester, remembered for the way he strived to make others laugh. But with cycling headaches and chemotherapy, some days for Julian were harder than others.
His first hospitalization came after doctors discovered there was bleeding in his brain caused by the tumor. He underwent three surgeries and more than 16 months of chemotherapy.
“I was really in shock because he had episodes,” said Julian’s mother, Agata Serafin. “Sometimes he was throwing up and having headaches, and they were telling us it was a stomach virus.”
The full diagnosis was shocking.
“We did not expect something like this and it doesn’t run in the family,” Agata said. “We were hopeful because we were told that there was a 60 percent chance of survival, and we were hoping that he would get better and that he would survive.”
Two weeks before he passed, Julian couldn’t move his arm and legs. He no longer spoke.
“The chemo wasn’t working anymore,” Agata said. Although Julian was young, he understood he was sick. When he was out with his mother, sometimes people stared at him, which he didn’t like. He also wore his hat because he became self-conscious about how the chemo affected his hair.
After Julian died, P.S. 24 principal Steven Schwartz made sure Julian would never be forgotten. When Julian was too sick to be in class, the students put a stuffed monkey in his seat. The children took pictures with the stuffed animal and would send them to their ill classmate.
The other children always made sure the toy was sitting in the seat since Julian could not.
As his condition progressed, a small video robot was placed in the classroom, which allowed Julian to Skype into class from the hospital. Eventually, he became too tired to be on camera as well.
“The school was very accommodating for Julian,” Agata said. “The teachers were very accommodating, and I’m very happy that he was a student at that school. I really appreciate what they did for him.”
When Julian was well, he would supervise construction projects he and his classmates built out of blocks, said Lee Maria, Julian’s teacher. He also enjoyed reading, with the superhero Spider-Man among his favorite topics.
His interest in computers was the reason P.S. 24’s administration dedicated an award in Julian’s memory to his mother in the school’s newly renovated media center. The P.S. 24 library received an update a few months ago and is filled with new computers. Agata described the celebration as a beautiful honor.
“I was very happy and proud of him,” Agata said of her son. “The plaque was beautiful. I think they put that he was a wonderful child with an infectious smile, and I’m happy that he made other children happy.”
Although Agata is grieving, she takes every day one at a time since her son passed. He brought joy to her life, she said.
“Agata’s incredible strength, loving care and devotion, unwavering dedication and support of her only child speaks to all persons who know her and of Julian’s story,” his teacher, Lee Maria, said in an email. “She continues to inspire me with her grace in the face of her great loss.”
Julian also inspired Schwartz and other teachers who interacted with him because, although he was sick, he was someone who loved coming to school.
“I really wanted our entire community to never forget Julian,” Schwartz said.
“I know that I will never forget him, and as educators, we’re supposed to educate him. In the end, I think he educated us in a lot of ways, and in future years, there can be a lot of children who can learn from his life and will ask, ‘Who is Julian?’”