RIVER EDGE, N.J. — Up until last month, Val Purciello's four River Edge children could've sworn she was invincible.
For years, they watched her get up at 5 a.m. to open the childcare center at Retro Fitness Hackensack, and then come home at 7 a.m. to get ready for her full-time job as a teacher in Paterson.
But things haven't been the same around the house for the Purciello kids lately. Their "superhero" mother, 57, was diagnosed with cancer in December.
"You have your hero, and nothing can bring them down," said Steven Purciello, 26, a Lyndhurst native.
"But then you see the strongest person you know brought to tears, and you have to try to keep a straight face. That's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life."
Fitness trainers and members of Retro Fitness Hackensack are rallying around their beloved babysitter and holding a Zumba Fitness fundraiser to help the Purciello family. The event will be on Sunday, Jan. 29 at noon at the gym and is open to the public.
The fateful day for the Purciellos came last month when Val woke up in the middle of the night with a bad headache. Her son, Michael, 24, drove her to The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, where two lesions were found in the back of her neck.
Further testing was done at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a place the family already knew from when Ryan Purceillo, 29, of Westwood, battled several bouts of cancer.
Tests revealed that the cancer was also in Val's hip, neck, skull and other places in her body.
Val, who grew up in East Rutherford and Cliffside Park, is still teaching: she refuses to quit until her body gives out.
As she faces chemotherapy and radiation at the end of the month, her kids can only hope things will get easier from here.
"I wake up every morning thinking it's not true," Steven said. "It’s one of those feelings."