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Cancer

Alexander Krasnitz. Photo from CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

If homeowners could find insects in their home, confirm that they were termites and locate nests before the termites damaged a house, they’d save themselves numerous problems. The same holds true for cancer.

Using the latest molecular biology techniques, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory including Associate Professor Alexander Krasnitz and Professor Michael Wigler have explored ways to detect cancer earlier.

Unlike other scientists, who have created tests that reveal the genetic probability of developing cancer, Krasnitz and Wigler developed a blood test to reveal the presence of a tumor that might be hard to spot. Such a test could be particularly valuable for cancers such as ovarian and pancreatic cancer, which can be inoperable by the time they present clinical symptoms.

Urging what Wigler described as a “call to arms,” Krasnitz said they created a blood test, called copy number variation, that they hope will be economically feasible. In copy number variation, sections of genes are repeated. While healthy cells have copy number variation, cancer cells use them like a Jack Nicholson mantra in “The Shining,” where the repetition of “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” becomes a calling card for a killing spree.

In cancer, chromosomes or chromosome arms are duplicated or deleted. Sometimes, a narrow region of the genome undergoes amplification, creating multiple copies of the region. Other times, a region of the genome may be lost. Genome-wide copy number variation is a hallmark of cancer. Copy number variation occurs often amid the disruption of DNA repair mechanisms and the breakdown in the way DNA separates into daughter cells during division.

In a recent article in Trends in Molecular Medicine, Krasnitz, Jude Kendall, Joan Alexander, Dan Levy and Wigler — all scientists at CSHL — suggest the potential for single-cell genomic analysis that searches for the presence of copy number variations could raise the alert level for cancer, signaling the need to search more closely for developing tumors.

In most massive cancers in the population, including breast, ovarian and prostate cancer, copy number variation is “ubiquitous,” Krasnitz said. Screening for these changes could provide “evidence for the presence of something abnormal,” which can be validated through other tests, Krasnitz said.

Copy number variation, on its own, is not sufficient to detect cancer, Krasnitz said. Researchers need evidence of similar abnormal copy number profiles in multiple cells. For this test to have clinical relevance, it would need to minimize false positives, which could create alarm and lead to future tests that might not be warranted, while also avoiding false negatives, which would miss the presence of cancer.

The main sources of false positives could come from copy number variation that’s already in cells in the blood that randomly look like a tumor. Cells with partially degraded DNA can have high copy number variation, which the researchers have observed. These profiles, however, arise from random processes and typically look different from each other. Cells from a cancer clone, however, have similar copy number profile.

Cancers with low copy number variation were a minority among the 11 cancers the scientists studied and include a type of colorectal cancer called microsatellite-unstable. If these CSHL researchers developed a preclinical test, they would look for additional ways to detect such cancers.

While numerous technological innovations required for the test exist, including copy number profiling of single cells and methods to enrich specimens from blood for suspected tumors, Krasnitz explained that considerable work remains before its clinical use, including establishing tumor cell counts in the blood of early patients, making single-cell profiling cheaper and finding optimal ways to identify the tissue of origin.

They are planning to study newly diagnosed patients to observe the presence of circulating cells from tumors. Once the scientists prove that the test has some predictive value, they need to ensure that it is economical and that they can follow up with patients to find tumors.

At this point, it’s unclear what the presence of copy number variation might reveal about the type of tumor, which could be a slowly growing or an aggressive type. Additionally, an abnormal indication from this type of analysis wouldn’t reveal anything about the type of cancer. Further tests, including on RNA, would help direct doctors to a specific organ or system.

Apart from his work with Wigler, Krasnitz also has numerous collaborations, including one with CSHL Cancer Center Director David Tuveson.

In his work with Tuveson, Krasnitz is ensuring that the organoid models Tuveson’s lab creates, which are living replicas of tumors taken from patients, faithfully reflect the genetic make up of the tumors. That, Tuveson said, is a significant undertaking because it can validate the organoid model for exploring the biology of tumors.

“This is a deliverable that many people are waiting for,” Tuveson said. The researchers want to make sure “what we grew is what the patient had in the first place.” So far, Tuveson said, the data looks good and the scientists don’t have any examples of the genetics of the organoids differing from that of the tumor.

Krasnitz also attempts to predict an organoid’s response to drugs that haven’t been tested yet based on the organoid’s reaction to other drugs. Tuveson reached out to Krasnitz to work with his group. He said Krasnitz is “a major player” and is “very skilled” in the type of analysis of big data his group generates through the genome, the transcriptome and drug screens. “He’s able to look at those three types of information and make sense of it,” Tuveson said.

Krasnitz is grateful for the support of the Simons Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for his work with Wigler. The most recent article with Wigler is an “invitation for the [research] community to join in the effort,” Krasnitz said. “We want collaborators and more competition in this area.”

Hundreds attended the Lax Out Cancer fundraiser in Shoreham that benefited four local children battling cancer. Photo by Kevin Redding

Alexa Boucher has attended Shoreham-Wading River’s Lax Out Cancer game for years, and this year, she’s one of the fundraiser’s beneficiaries.

In January, Alexa Boucher was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancerous tumor that’s grown on the 14-year-old’s eye socket.

She was chosen as one of four — alongside 6-year-old Grayson from Miller Place, and 1-year-old Hannah Grace and 10-year-old Jackson from Port Jefferson Station — who were honored in the middle of Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field during the ninth annual event May 6.

Alexa Boucher, above with her family, enjoys playing her guitar, basketball and softball. Photo by Kevin Redding

Shoreham-Wading River, Garden City, Miller Place and Bellport participated in three games, with all money raised through donations and raffles divided equally among the recipient’s families.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Alexa said when she arrived on the school grounds to see hundreds of families, volunteers and corporate sponsors rallying behind her. “I never would’ve imagined that I would be a recipient.”

Kimberly Boucher, Alexa’s mother, was equally overwhelmed by the outpouring support for her daughter, who has been undergoing chemotherapy at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the city.

“We’re just so blessed to live in such an amazing community; there aren’t enough words to say how much we appreciate what’s been done for Alexa,” she said. “You never think it’d be your own child that you’re coming for … we’re just so grateful [that] everybody comes together when they hear a child is sick.”

Larry and Vanessa Horowitz, whose son was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in February and has been in and out of treatment at Stony Brook Hospital the last few weeks, were grateful to be there with him.

“He’s 6 years old and deserves everything we can give him,” Larry Horowitz said as he watched Grayson, smiling ear-to-ear, pass a lacrosse ball around with his friend. “There’s so much unbelievable selfishness and fundraising and everyone getting together here. The sun is shining and this is what I’ve been praying for.”

Grayson Horowitz tosses around a lacrosse ball. Photo by Kevin Redding

His wife, reflecting on her son’s ability to muscle through his ordeal at such a young age, said, “He’s stronger than I ever imagined and it’s making us all stronger just watching him. … You don’t really know people until you go through something like this, and I have no idea how to thank everybody for doing they they’ve done for us.”

The Shoreham-Wading River-based fundraiser was started in 2008 by Tom Rotanz, the high school’s then varsity lacrosse coach, as a way to acknowledge the father of one his player’s, who succumbed to a rare salivary gland cancer in 2005, as well as others in the community affected by cancer.

Since then, the event narrowed its focus on raising money for the families of kids in Shoreham and neighborhood districts fighting cancer — starting with 10-year-old Liam McGuire, a member of Shoreham’s lacrosse program who has been in remission following a 38-month leukemia battle, and Kaitlyn Suarez, a Shoreham girls’ lacrosse superstar who joined the team after recovering from two bouts with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It’s such an uplifting experience to feel all the love that everybody throws at these kids,” said Miller Place resident Glen Cote, who, along with his wife Renée and young son Zachary, were beneficiaries in 2014 and 2015. In June 2014, Zachary, 5 at the time, was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, or brain cancer.

“To have your child go through something like this, you’re down in the dumps,” the father said. “But this provides the parents and the little ones with a great feeling.”

Before the event even kicked off, $30,000 was raised for the families through sponsors, which included St. Charles Hospital and FLG Lacrosse, and the sale of program ads, T-shirts and raffle tickets.

A DJ from 101.7 FM “The Beach” emceed the fundraiser and That Meetball Place, from Patchogue, supplied food for attendees.

“They’re competitive kids and they want to play the game, but they understand the bigger purpose of giving back to kids that are not as fortunate.”

— Mike Taylor

“Every year it’s grown and grown,” said Kathy Miller, a member of the event committee and mother of a lacrosse player. “It’s teaching the players a valuable lesson about life, how precious life is and how much this giving means for the families. It’s bigger than just a lacrosse game.”

Mike Taylor, head coach of the boys’ varsity lacrosse team who opened the door for other school districts to participate when he was hired three years ago, said the players are a different breed of athletes.

“They understand the true meaning of this,” he said. “They’re competitive kids and they want to play the game, but they understand the bigger purpose of giving back to kids that are not as fortunate as they are. When they were kids seeing this event, they wanted to be part of it on the lacrosse side. Now that they’re older, and they’ve met the kids that they’re helping, it becomes a whole different thing to them.”

Joe Miller, a senior and varsity midfielder for Shoreham-Wading River’s boys’ lacrosse team, said he’s incredibly moved by what the recipients go through.

“It means a lot that we can help them out a little bit,” Miller said. “Seeing the kids and their families here, it makes it a lot more powerful and makes you feel like what you did made a difference.”

Defenseman Kyle Higgins echoed his teammate’s sentiment.

“It’s an honor to play for this kind of event,” he said. “Helping those who need support means a lot to us.”

Stony Brook softball player Danni Kemp died after a battle with cancer. Photo from SBU

The Stony Brook family is mourning the loss of student-athlete Danni Kemp, who passed away on the morning of March 10 surrounded by family following her battle with cancer.

The Seawolves, who had dedicated their softball season to the sophomore, 19, postponed March 10 games against Santa Clara and New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Danni Kemp up to bat for the Seawolves. Photo from SBU

“Our hearts are heavy today and our love goes out to Danni and her family,” Stony Brook softball coach Megan Bryant said. “In all too short of a young life, Danni touched so many in a beautiful way. She fought so hard against this terrible disease, and showed us what true courage is. May Danni only know peace now.”

In July, Kemp was hit in the head by a pitch while playing in a summer league game. When she began feeling dizzy, had trouble focusing and couldn’t keep her balance, doctors tested her for a concussion. An MRI revealed a cancerous brain tumor.

Due to the location, surgery was not an option, and Kemp began radiation therapy Aug. 29, receiving treatment Monday through Friday for a total of six weeks.

A GoFundMe page was created on behalf of the family Aug. 22, and in six months had raised nearly $130,000 of the $150,000 goal, with donations from 1,575 people.

“Danni is the toughest young woman we have all ever met,” wrote Bradley Taylor, who created the GoFundMe page. “Her strong and indomitable will has already proven to be more than enough to battle and beat a rare kidney disease while she was in high school. This will be a battle, but with so many people who know and love Danni and her family, they’ve got an army behind them.”

Since her death, hundreds more dollars have poured in from those touched by the loss of Kemp, even those who didn’t know her.

“I felt very sad when I read the story,” wrote John Colombo.

Janis Matton was also saddened upon hearing the news.

“I am so very sorry for your loss,” she wrote. “Danni was truly an inspiration to all. Prayers for your family.”

“We got an angel in the outfield behind us. Heavy hearts with a little something more to play for this season.”

—Kevin Kernan

Kemp hit .446 as a junior for J.A. Foran High School in Connecticut en route to All-Conference and first team All-State honors. In her first three seasons at Foran, she collected more than 100 hits and 40 stolen bases. She was also a member of the Connecticut Charmers, an Under-18 fast pitch showcase team coached by Neil Swanchak.

As a Seawolf, she scored her first career hit against Charlotte University Feb. 20 of last year; had a double and scored a run at Florida Atlantic University Feb. 26; had two hits, including a bases-clearing double in a win over Columbia University Feb. 27; walked twice and drove in a run at Manhattan College March 30; drew three walks in another contest; and walked and scored a run at the University of Massachusetts Lowell April 16.

Kemp’s death had an impact that reverberated beyond just her softball family. After news of her death spread around campus, many student-athletes took to social media.

Tiffany Zullo, a midfielder on the women’s lacrosse team from Connetquot High School, tweeted: “We all play for Danni and will forever be Danni Strong. Rest in peace to a beautiful soul.”

Kevin Kernan, a baseball pitcher, posted, “We got an angel in the outfield behind us. Heavy hearts with a little something more to play for this season.”

Details for services will be forthcoming once the Kemp family makes arrangements.

“Danni had her entire life in front of her,” Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron said. “I am devastated beyond words and heartbroken for her family and everyone who loved her. Her valiant fight over the past several months was an inspiration to all of us, and her impact on the Stony Brook Athletics family will be felt for many years to come.”

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By Rita J. Egan

Dog Ear Publishing recently released John P. Cardone’s fourth book, “Waterviews: The Healing Power of Nature.” In his new book, the Ronkonkoma resident shares the wealth of knowledge he has gained from his kayak and nature photography adventures, more than 30 years of experience in health care education and his bout with cancer.

“Waterviews: The Healing Power of Nature” is a valuable resource for those who are looking to improve their health and well-being. The writer and photographer has written an easy-to-read, comprehensive guide where readers can learn about the health benefits of nature, the importance of calming one’s mind, how to foster the spirit of nature in children and more.

In addition to the author sharing his experiences and research, Cardone also includes photographs he has taken in various locations including Long Island sites such as Heckscher State Park, Cedar Beach, Carmans River and Little Neck Run, which are perfect examples of nature’s calming elements. Recently, Cardone took time to answer a few questions about himself and his latest venture.

Author John Cardone

 

Tell me a bit about yourself.

For starters, I’m a lover of the outdoors, so I spend a good chunk of time kayaking the waters around Long Island, hiking and biking the paths around our parks and taking photographs of nature. For over 30 years, I have been an educator writing and producing health education videos working mostly for hospitals. I have always liked teaching and helping people learn more about good health. Over the last 10 years or so, I have been a teacher in a different way — teaching people about the health benefits of spending time in nature.

How did you get involved with writing?

My interest in writing started when I studied literature in college. I found I love to read — I still do. But professionally, I was writing videos and some print pieces on health topics. Then one day, while commuting home on the Long Island Rail Road, I closed the covers of a mystery book and it hit me … could I write a book? I accepted my own challenge and started to write on paper every day on the train home from work. Some years later, I self-published that story — “Without Consent.” The book got great reviews and is still sold on Amazon’s and Barnes and Noble’s websites.

You are also a noted photographer. Where has your work been exhibited?

I have been very fortunate to have my photos on exhibit around Long Island. And, I like to point out that most of the photographs have been taken while kayaking Long Island waters — a challenge, of course. They have been exhibited at art shows with the Northport Arts Coalition, the Good Ground Artists out of Hampton Bays, the Islip Arts Council, the Art League of Long Island, Levittown Library, Sachem Library and Connetquot Library among others.

How did you become interested in how nature plays a part in a person’s well-being?

My very first introduction to how nature can help people took place years ago when I was working on creating teaching videos with stress reduction and relaxation experts for a couple of hospital clients. These experts were teaching people how to use the images of nature and the outdoors to relax them during stressful times.

Then, there was my own firsthand experience while I was fighting my own battle with cancer. During the later stages of chemotherapy, when I was too weak to paddle my kayak or bike, my wife and I would take slow, gentle walks at Bayard Cutting Arboretum. In my “Waterviews: A Collection of Photographs, Thoughts & Experiecnes” book, I wrote about this in a section in Chapter 4 called, “Can a River Be a Friend.” During those walks I always felt better, and frequently forgot that I was ill, forgot that I was a cancer patient.

The cover of John Cardone’s latest book

How has nature helped in improving your life in other ways?

I think nature has helped me with a positive, happy outlook on life. We’re all here on earth only a relatively short time. We can choose how we want to live — I choose to see the beauty and wonder of nature and let it inspire me. Sometimes, when I paddle my kayak deep into Yaphank Creek, a tributary off the Carmans River, I’m in an area untouched by man. What I see could very well be what Native Americans might have seen over 200 years ago. Those quiet moments, with a gentle wind blowing, and an occasional quack or chirp, recharges my batteries and prepares me for the next challenge.

How would you describe your book to someone who hasn’t read it?

I think the book’s subtitle is a good start: “A practical exploration of how nature can influence our health and well-being.” But then I would go on to explain that in our high-tech, hurry up world, spending time in nature can do wonders to help us calm our minds. I present many ideas and facts on how nature can improve our health. There are over 75 color photographs of nature, places to visit and ways nature can help us. There are also details about happiness and how spending time in nature can make a difference. I would tell anyone who has children in their lives that the book points out the importance of fostering the spirit of nature in children … to help them be connected and in learning ways to protect the earth.

You featured many spots on Long Island in your book. What are a few of your favorite places to visit on the island?

If I am walking or hiking, then the Bayard Cutting and Planting Fields arboretums come to mind, along with Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook. If I am bicycling, then you’ll find me in the woods within Heckscher State Park in East Islip and the paths through Massapequa Park Preserve. If I am kayaking, then the lower portion of the Carmans River within the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge and the waters near Orient Harbor and the Orient Beach State Park.

Tell me about the PowerPoint presentation you created to promote the book?

I created the presentation to teach people about the importance of being out in nature. It is based on the research I conducted over the last three years. Of course, the presentation is only a small part of what the book covers. I focus on a few of the major points; these include a section on what nature we are referring to and how much time we have to be in it, how nature can calm our minds. I address a few of the real health benefits; things like less sadness and depression, the ability to cope with stress and improved function of the aging brain. On the physical health side, things like lower blood pressure, better cardio-respiratory function and a boost to the immune system.

What are your plans for the near future?

For me, my work is just starting. The book is only one step on the path to help people fully understand how to connect (or re-connect) with nature and how doing that can benefit their health. So, over the next months I have booked a number of presentations on the topic, as well as a number of book signings and photo exhibits. The places, dates and times are listed on the events page of my website, www.WaterviewsBook.com.

I’m also expanding my photography classes. I teach at the Art League of Long Island and at the Islip Arts Council. I now offer an introduction and an advanced class on Waterscape & Wildlife Photography. Plus, there is a Photo Printing Workshop to help folks interested in printing high-quality prints. The classes are an important part of my work for they help people appreciate nature, as well as get them outside to study it and to capture the images they see.

“Waterviews: The Healing Power of Nature” is available on Amazon’s and Barnes and Noble’s websites.

Setauket residents continue a Renaissance Technologies tradition

Stony Brook Cancer Center. File photo

Generosity, particularly towards Stony Brook University, runs in the family at Renaissance Technologies.

Lalit Bahl, a veteran of the hedge fund, and his wife Kavita, who are Setauket residents, recently agreed to donate $10 million to a new translational research program that will complement Stony Brook’s effort to understand and conquer cancer. The financial gift, which will support a metabolomics and imaging center that will provide individualized cancer care, comes two years after the Bahls donated $3.5 million to a similar effort.

Bahl said he was following a long-established tradition.

“Many of my colleagues at Renaissance have donated significant amounts to Stony Brook and in particular the medical side over the years,” Bahl said. “I’ve heard from some of them about some of the projects that they have been involved in. I’m sure that played some part in my decision to make this donation.”

Another compelling factor in that decision, Bahl said, was the prevalence of cancer in his family.

Jim Simons, former chairman of the Mathematics Department at Stony Brook, founded Renaissance Technologies, bringing in a range of expertise to understand and predict movements in the stock market. Simons and his wife Marilyn have made significant contributions to Stony Brook that have helped bring in talented staff.

Indeed, in 2012 the school recruited distinguished scientists Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Cancer Center and Lina Obeid, the dean for research and professor of medicine. Hannun and Obeid, with the support of other senior faculty in the Cancer Center, will help oversee the creation of an advanced metabolomics and imaging center in the new Medical and Research Translation building when it opens in 2018.

Lalit and Kavita Bahl pledge $10 million to new cancer research program. Photo from Stony Brook University
Lalit and Kavita Bahl pledge $10 million to new cancer research program. Photo from Stony Brook University

“We have high-powered, brilliant investigations in cancer medicine,” Hannun said. “This creates the capability that will allow them to take their work to the next level, in developing new therapeutics as well as in imaging studies.”

The new facilities include a cyclotron, which is used to create novel tracer molecules for PET scanning, hot labs that produce radioactive tracers for the cyclotron, two PET scanners and research labs.

Imaging will enable doctors to monitor patients, in some cases without excising a tissue sample or performing surgery.

The imaging will “distinguish between a tumor [that] is necrotic and dying [and one] that’s metabolically active,” said Obeid. That will help track and monitor the patient’s response to various medicines and chemotherapy in a noninvasive way.

Metabolomics is the study of the small molecules or metabolites that help cells function. Some of those metabolites provide energy while others could act as signaling molecules, and still others could be involved in other structural or functional effects.

In addition to new equipment, Stony Brook will add new scientists to its fight against cancer. During the first phase, the school will recruit an oncological imaging researcher, a matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization researcher and a magnetic resonance spectroscopy researcher. In the second phase, Stony Brook will hire a new scientist in experimental therapeutics.

Ken Kaushansky, the dean of the School of Medicine, appreciates the progress the school is making in cancer research and is energized by the combination of philanthropic gifts and investments from the university.

“There’s something remarkably catalytic about a brand new building,” Kaushansky said. He said he’s had regular discussions with people who want an opportunity to work in the new facility.

While the broader goal is, and continues to be, to make important discoveries that will help in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, Kaushansky reiterated the school’s desire to earn a National Cancer Institute designation. This designation, which has been given to 69 institutions throughout the United States, raises its visibility and increases the opportunities to become part of research initiatives, while it also improves the chances that an individual scientist will obtain research funding from the National Cancer Institute, according to that organization’s web site.

“We have far surpassed the threshold of cancer research needed to acquire an NCI designation,” Kaushanksy said, which he attributes to Hannun’s efforts. Stony Brook is “now focusing on building up our clinical research prowess. That’s the second major component. I like our chances.”

The next area Stony Brook hopes to build is cardiovascular imaging, Kaushansky said.

“We have some remarkable cardiovascular surgeons and some terrific cardiovascular biologists,” Kaushansky said. “We need some outstanding cardiovascular imagers to work with [them]. We can use the incredible tools that we are building to do to cardiovascular medicine what we are doing to cancer.”

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MAIA Salon Spa and Wellness staffers cut the ribbon to launch Mondays at MAIA in Smithtown, a program to benefit cancer patients. Photo from Facebook

By Joseph Wolkin

One Smithtown spa and salon is going above and beyond to make sure cancer patients beat the Monday blues.

Mondays at Racine, a cancer care program created in 2003 by Racine Spa and Salon owner Rachel DeMolfetto and co-founder Cynthia Sansone has begun a new journey in conjunction with MAIA Salon Spa and Wellness in Smithtown.

Designed to give free salon care to cancer patients, Mondays at Racine’s services vary based on what the salon usually offers. In the case of MAIA — a full service salon and spa — they said they will do anything from shaving someone’s head to manicures and pedicures, along with yoga and reiki, a technique used to help the natural healing process in the patient’s body and restore physical and emotional well-being.

Karla Waldron, executive director for Mondays at Racine, said the salon reached out to them about being a part of the program.

“This woman that owns this salon is very well-known on Long Island, and she expressed interest in taking on the program,”, Waldron said. “Once that happened, we went into action to develop her program.”

The spa, owned by Agata Gajewski-Sathi, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the new cancer care program on June 6, with approximately 50 people in attendance.

“The staff and I at MAIA Salon Spa and Wellness are honored to participate in the Mondays at Racine program,” Gajewski-Sathi said at the opening. “We look forward to making a positive difference in the lives of people going through a very challenging time. As a strong believer in the mind-body connection and an advocate of integrative and holistic healing modalities, I strongly believe that incorporating these alternative options will have many beneficial effects on the day-to-day quality of life of our clients who are fighting cancer.”

In addition to debuting the new program, the spa held a special screening of Mondays at Racine, an Academy Award nominated documentary created by HBO. The 2010 short film showcased how two sisters enabled women diagnosed with cancer to receive treatment at their spa every third Monday of the month.

“It follows some cancer patients around through their chemotherapy,” Waldron said. “It goes through their home life, their relationship with their husbands. The backdrop is our program. You can see them receiving the different services and it’s quite moving.”

The film was released in 2012, and after that, the group’s popularity increased dramatically.

The original Mondays at Racine started in Islip at Racine Spa and Salon, and now there are charter locations in Port Jefferson, Greenvale, and beyond.

Waldron said the mission of Mondays at Racine is to show support for community members who are struggling with cancer.

“We needed to do something for the people in our community that were dealing with the devastating side effects of cancers,” Waldron explained. “We were seeing more and more of them. They were our patrons and friends. We decided that as a part of giving back, let’s open up our doors and give complimentary services. We wanted to just treat them to something nice.”

Participants from a previous Relay For Life at the high school take a lap. Photo from Alyssa Patrone

The fight to raise money and awareness for cancer research reaches far and wide, and on June 4, Northport High School’s track and football field will host nearly 900 people dedicated to doing their part to eradicate the disease.

Northport High School has held Relay for Life events since 2009, making the one this year its eighth annual. The popular American Cancer Society fundraiser starts with teams raising money from local businesses and individuals to be donated for the cause. During the event, which can last up to 24 hours, at least one participant from each team circles a track, usually at schools or parks, at all times as a reminder that cancer never sleeps. Campsites are set up for each team and laps during the relay are dedicated to various survivors and those who died of the illness.

Alyssa Patrone, the American Cancer Society representative overseeing Northport’s event, said Northport participants have raised more than $121,000 so far this year, bringing the total raised in eight years to about $1.3 million.

“There are so many incredible events that happen in our community, but Relay For Life really gives the Northport-East Northport community a place to gather and rally behind those who have been affected by cancer,” Patrone, a Northport resident herself, said in an email. “The volunteers that work to put the event together make sure that the Northport-East Northport community knows that if you’ve ever been touched by cancer in any way, we are here for you. At the event there really is a feeling of hope in the air that’s almost tangible. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s something truly special.”

Currently Deborah Kelly is listed as the top fundraiser on Northport’s page on the Relay for Life website, with more than $6,000 for her team “Steps for Christine.” Kelly’s page on the website says she is participating in the relay for “my sister and all the people who are battling this terrible disease.”

Ashleigh Basel of “Team Rainbow” has raised more than $4,000 for the cause. She also explained why she’s participating in the event on her Relay for Life page.

“I know there are a lot of worthy causes to support, but I think participating in an event that helps save lives from cancer is about as worthy as it gets,” she wrote.

The American Cancer Society has invested more than $4.3 billion in cancer research since 1964, according to its website. The organization estimates that in 2016 more than 1.6 million new cancer diagnosis will occur, and nearly 600,000 people will die.

For more information about Relay for Life or to make a donation, visit www.relayforlife.org.

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By Bob Savage

Locals shaved their heads for a good cause on Saturday at Schafer’s restaurant in Port Jefferson, raising money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and research into childhood cancers.

Among those going bald were TBR News Media’s own Michael Tessler, who said goodbye to his curly locks.

Commack School District teachers, administrators, students and community members gathered at the high school on Friday to shave their heads in the name of childhood cancer research.

About 175 people “braved the shave” to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. This is the seventh year that the district has hosted the event, which is organized by Commack High School teachers Lee Tunick and Bill Scaduto. Tunick said that the district eclipsed $500,000 raised since they began the annual event seven years ago, with more than $66,000 and counting coming in 2016. More than 700 people have had their heads shaved at Commack since they began.

“The community feel is terrific,” Tunick said. “The community just gets behind this like you wouldn’t believe.”

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) was in attendance to take part in the festivities as well.

“In comparison to what children are going through with cancer, it’s nothing,” Edwards said about the bravery required to have her head shaved in front of a gymnasium full of people. “It’s breathtaking. It’s easy to write a check. We do that all the time. Not enough people do that probably, but when you’re doing something like this, you’re going for it. You believe in it. You’re passionate about it,” she added.

Commack High School senior Chris Walsh had his head shaved in St. Baldrick’s name for the tenth year Friday. He has personally raised over $20,000.

Scaduto came to the event with a thick mane of brown hair but left with far less.

“We have a lot of quality teachers here who really volunteer their time to make this happen,” Scaduto said. “Administration, kids, everyone gets involved and it’s just amazing.”

Sports memorabilia items were donated to be bid on by Triple Crown Sports Memorabilia in Hauppauge, as another fundraising source.

For more information about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s cause, or to donate, visit www.stbaldricks.org.

More than 100 people filed into the Centereach Fire Department on Washington Avenue to lose their locks and raise money for the Centereach Civic Association’s third annual St. Baldrick’s fundraiser on Friday.

Residents could shave their heads, volunteer, or simply donate money, at the four-hour fundraiser. Attendees also had the chance to enter various raffles and get a free dinner before heading home.

The civic hoped to raise $50,000 this year. Thus far it has raised more than $8,000 toward that goal, according to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, though it was unclear if that amount included what was raised on Friday. All proceeds go toward the foundation, which focuses on curing childhood cancers.

According to event disc jockey Rob Wilson, three businessmen established the foundation to help give back to those in need. Their success with the fundraiser inspired them to create the 17-year-old foundation and sparked an annual head-shaving tradition.

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