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Port Jefferson Station

Civic leaders Charlie McAteer, Edward Garboski and Sal Pitti discuss local developments. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson Station and Terryville residents may be willing to give a proposed apartment complex a tentative thumbs up, but a new potential fast food restaurant is having its feet put to the fire.

Members of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association listened to the developers of several prospective businesses and apartment complexes at a Nov. 27 meeting, one the once-maligned Concern for Independent Living apartment complex off Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station.

The 77-unit complex, slated for north of East Grove Street and south of Washington Avenue across from the Sagamore Hills Condominiums, originally came under fire from residents when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced May 10 that New York State was setting aside $8.1 million for the project to promote affordable homes, particularly for the homeless.

Sal Pitti, the president of the civic, said after talking with representatives of the apartment’s developers he realized there was much misinformation about the project. “It was a culmination of nonsense,” Pitti said.

The civic leader said Ralph Fasano, the executive director for Concern for Independent Living, has also been extremely forthcoming and attentive to addressing the community’s concerns.

Fasano said 75 units in the complex will be single bedroom, and only two are two-bedroom, one of which is reserved for the apartment manager. Veterans would get preference when applying for these apartments, and the remainder will be available for people making up to 60 percent of the area median income, which is about $40,000 to $60,000 a year according to U.S. Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

A majority of the civic voted to write a letter of conditional support to the Town of Brookhaven, with specific requests for the town to compel the developer to work to obtain a traffic light on Route 112, provide as much fencing as possible between adjacent housing, provide a landscaping screen for the adjacent property and preserve open space.

“They seem to be trying to address [those concerns],” Charlie McAteer, the civic’s corresponding secretary, said.

While the apartment complex received support, a potential Popeyes, to be located on property east of the TD Bank on Nesconset Highway at the corner of Old Town Road, garnered the opposite reaction. The proposal was spurred by residents angry over the amount of existing fast-food restaurants on Route 347 and fears of an increase in traffic.

While the land has not yet been sold,  Jim Tsunis, the CEO of Hauppauge-based The Northwind Group, said preliminary designs  call for a 2,400-square-foot restaurant with access from Route 347. Tsunis said they are seeking a change of zoning application to allow for the restaurant use.

Residents were especially concerned about traffic on a road that has already seen its share of accidents. Tsunis said that he doesn’t expect the project to put any more cars on the road, but rather some drivers would decide to pull into the Popeyes rather than visit other existing restaurants further down the highway.

“It’s a balance, not a give and take,” Tsunis said.

Craig Fazio, a lifelong Port Jeff Station resident, said he disagreed with others about the Popeyes, especially since Tsunis still owned the property. Fazio said Tsunis could push to build a 14,000-square-foot medical office complex in that same spot, which he believes would be even worse for traffic.

“If you put health care there, how many doctors will see patients every 15 minutes versus a much smaller restaurant?” Fazio asked.

Tsunis said that he has considered building medical offices and the property is zoned for a two-story office building. 

“I hope we can work together in the future to mitigate some of these points,” he said.

Jennifer Dzvonar, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, asked why  Popeyes wasn’t considering building on Route 112, other vacant land or existing empty retail space.

McAteer said he didn’t believe the civic was totally against Popeyes, but it needs to be located on a better and safer site. “We were not saying, ‘We just hate your restaurant, we just want you out.’ Just put it in an area that could use a little boost,” he said.

The civic’s next meeting will be held at Comsewogue Public Library, 170 Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m.

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L.I. Pour House on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station will host a free Thanksgiving dinner for those in need Nov. 22, and is prepared to feed up to 500 people, according to owner Anthony Pallino. Photo from L.I. Pour House Facebook

A restaurant and bar on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station will be open Thanksgiving Day, but those seeking a burger or beer will have to wait until they reopen Friday.

L.I. Pour House, located at 650 Route 112, will for the second consecutive year hold a free Thanksgiving Day meal for those without a place to go for the holidays, from noon to 3 p.m. Last year the event fed about 100 people, according to owner Anthony Pallino, though he said he expects at least double the crowd this year, and he’s prepared to feed as many as 500.

“We have the platform to do it so it’s kind of selfish not to,” Pallino said. “It’s a time for people not only that are homeless, but also that just don’t have families and stuff like that to have a place to go. I’ve never felt that before — I‘ve always had a place to go on the holidays. I’m very lucky.”

Pallino said all of the food — turkey, stuffing, pasta, desserts and more — will be made in-house by the restaurant’s chefs. Many of those who take up the L.I. Pour House offer will likely be regular patrons of Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen based in Port Jefferson Village, which for nearly 30 years has served a hot, fresh meal homemade by volunteers at several area churches free of charge for those in need Sunday through Wednesday, as well as Friday, including at First Presbyterian Church on Main Street. The soup kitchen does not have Thursday offerings and while it offers turkey dinners repeatedly around Thanksgiving, it is closed on the actual day. The organization’s president, Marge Tumilowicz, said she’s been directing her regular guests to go to L.I. Pour House for a hot, home-cooked turkey dinner Nov. 22. She said Welcome Friends made up invitations for the event and distributed them to their guests prior to Thanksgiving.

“It’s wonderful,” she said of the event. “It should be a time of warmth and community, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. Everybody says it’s for the family. Well, guess what, it was for more than family at the beginning. The whole community came together to celebrate.”

The statement on L.I. Pour House’s Facebook page summed up the thinking behind hosting the event.

“This Thanksgiving we at L.I. Pour House will be giving back to the community that has supported us for four years,” the post said. “So if you know of any family down on their luck or have no place to be this Thanksgiving tell them to come to L.I. Pour House. … We wish everyone a great holiday season.”

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella congratulates a member of the class of 2016 during graduation June 23. File photo by Bob Savage

By Rob DeStefano

What can you accomplish during a 25-year career at Comsewogue School District? Greatness. Let me explain: While I was a sophomore at Comsewogue, we were introduced to Joe Rella as the new teacher in the music department, a quarter century ago. In the months that followed, students started talking about music, band, theater and jazz with an increased frequency not measurable before. Something special was beginning.

I don’t remember which concert it was, winter or spring, but as a junior participating in the newly reinvigorated jazz band, it happened. We sat playing an upbeat swing-time classic — maybe Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” or Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” — and this new teacher stepped away from the conductor’s podium. We stayed cool, kept playing, though we wondered what was happening. He walked to the audience and offered a hand to his wife. A moment later, this new teacher and his wife were doing the Charleston in front of an audience of parents, while our band played. In that moment, the magic became real. Comsewogue had hired our own “Mr. Holland.” We had our first glimpse of who Rella was.

In the years that followed, class after class grew to appreciate his style — and his impact. His collaboration with our music educators led to a number of new opportunities for students. We had a pep band at home football games. Our theater performances recruited more students, some discovering talent they didn’t know they had. Even more, they found confidence, overcame shyness and lifted each other to perform at higher levels. This influence benefited all the district’s high school students when he became principal in the 1998-99 school year. How he found the time to continue to accompany students in their musical endeavors, I don’t know.

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella with students who participated in Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

Rella’s appointment as Comsewogue’s superintendent in 2010 coincided with my election to our board of education. To call the last eight-plus years of working with him “unforgettable” is an understatement. Just as he inspired our students, he’s been a source of trust, candor and community to Port Jefferson Station residents, and beyond.

He’s proposed innovative solutions to challenges that threaten public education. He’s stood up for our children and an educational curriculum that prepares them to be their best. He’s advocated logic in the face of unreasonable and irresponsible policies dictated by out-of-touch government actions. As he prepares to retire after nine years as superintendent, his influence on our district, community and public education are deep and long lasting.

Great leaders don’t act alone. At each step in his 25-year journey, Rella has influenced the culture of the departments, schools and communities he’s worked with. Those who became Warriors along the way have become part of this culture of openness, collaboration and unwavering spirit. That makes me very excited for our community and Comsewogue School District’s future.

Our district administration has delivered great community successes in recent years. We’ve weathered the limitations of the property tax cap without compromising the quality of student education. Student access to technology has grown at all levels. Our arts programs are amazing. If you haven’t been to one of our schools’ art shows or musicals lately, I highly recommend them.

We’ve received accreditation from the Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools, a first on Long Island for a full-sized district, putting our educational standard significantly above those dictated by the New York State Education Department. Program performance has been on a strong incline. Our literacy program and programs for English language learners are providing stronger foundations toward the educational growth of every student. Our problem-based learning program is proving our students have the analytical, critical thinking skills for 21st century success. They not only pass state exams but demonstrate deep knowledge of topics and an understanding of the world around them.

Rob DeStefano is a Comsewogue board of education member and a Comsewogue High School graduate

On top of all this, our district — and really, our community — culture is unprecedented. Our students are not only academically thriving, but they are responsible stewards of the schools and neighborhoods to which they belong. The number of volunteer initiatives and the number of students who participate is awesome to see. And the latest of these, “Joe’s Days of Service,” is one of the great cultural legacies that I have no doubt will become a lasting part of how Comsewogue students give back to the community that has supported them, even after Rella moves on. Our students, past, present and future, will continue to make us proud.

As incoming superintendent, Jennifer Quinn represents the next stage in our community’s Warrior spirit. She has worked alongside Rella to get us where we are. As our district has been elevated, she has built, evolved and driven the programs that are enabling our students to thrive. I’m extremely excited about the vision she has shared to continue Comsewogue’s trajectory toward the very best in academics, athletics and arts. Our community is becoming a more attractive place to live and raise a family. Ask your local real estate agent to confirm this. Where we’re headed, the place we live will become an even more coveted venue — a benefit for all residents.

Legacy takes many forms. Rella’s real, lasting impact on our community is proven by how we celebrate and carry forward the torch he passes along to us all. The job belongs to all of us. We must not lose sight of what makes ours a special place to be. We must recognize the opportunity ahead of us and continue toward it with the same unwavering commitment. We must continue to work together, support each other and continue to carry Comsewogue forward with pride because, in some way, we’ve all had the blessing of being students of Joe Rella. We are a family of Warriors.

Rob DeStefano is a Comsewogue School District Board of Education member and a graduate of Comsewogue High School.

North Shore residents line the corner of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station Nov. 7 in response to the removal of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Photo by Alex Petroski

They say all politics is local.

The national drama of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the potential ties between President Donald Trump’s (R) 2016 campaign and Russian interference in the election experienced an escalation of tensions Nov. 7, one day after the midterm elections, and the response could be heard as far from Washington D.C. as Port Jefferson Station.

Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) resigned that day in a letter that stated the president requested he do so.

As a result, the left-leaning political action group MoveOn organized nationwide protests called Nobody is Above the Law — Mueller Protection Rapid Response to take place across the country Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. A few dozen protestors congregated at the corner of Routes 112 and 347 to make their voices heard and send a message to Washington. The local activist organization North Country Peace Group acted to mobilize North Shore residents in the aftermath of the news.

“[Trump] firing Sessions and everything that he’s been doing since he’s been in the White House is my impetus to get out here,” Ellie Kahana, of Stony Brook, said. “He’s obviously going to try and get rid of Mueller and conceal whatever Mueller is finding out.”

Sessions’ position at the top of the U.S. Department of Justice would ordinarily make him the person in charge of a special counsel investigation, though he recused himself from that investigation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because he campaigned with Trump during 2016. Sessions’ potential removal was long viewed as a signal by his opponents that Trump may be moving to undermine Mueller’s probe or even fire him altogether.

When asked by White House pool reporters if acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, whom Trump appointed, was installed to harm the investigation, Trump called it a “stupid question.” While Trump has referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” repeatedly on Twitter and in interviews, he has yet to take any steps to conceal its eventual findings or cut off its funding.

“I knew this would happen, in fact I thought it would happen at midnight,” said Lisa Karelis, of East Setauket.

Karelis said the Democrats seizing of the U.S. House of Representatives on election night creating the possibility of increased scrutiny triggered Trump’s urgency for a new attorney general. She added Whitaker’s public statements opposing the expanding scope of the Mueller probe prior to his appointment made it clear what the president hoped to accomplish by naming Whitaker acting attorney general.

Members of U.S. Congress and from both political parties have suggested legislation be advanced to prevent removal of the special counsel. The bill has yet to gain enough support to be delivered to Trump’s desk for signature.

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Isabella Gordon, 15, organizes the nearly 300 pounds of hygiene products she collected for donation. Photo from Ali Gordon

Inspired by a leadership camp she attended over the summer, Comsewogue High School sophomore Isabella Gordon identified a problem in her community and took it upon herself to fix it. Before she knew it, her bedroom was piled high with feminine hygiene products set for donation.

Isabella, 15, said she had been interested in attending the Eleanor Roosevelt Girls Leadership Worldwide camp, a program offered by the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill in Hyde Park New York aimed at helping attendees gain confidence, develop a voice and unlock one’s leadership potential, ever since her older sister attended more than a decade ago. She went this past summer and met young women from around the world, and upon returning home, she was struck with an idea.

The teenager said she came across a video on YouTube that detailed the difficulty homeless women on their menstrual cycle have in obtaining hygiene products and wasted little time springing to action.

“I was interested and talked to my mom that night and was like, ‘Hey, I want to work on this,’” she said following a Comsewogue board of education meeting Nov. 5, where her mom Ali Gordon has served on the board for three terms. “So for the next week or so me and my sister were kind of just thinking up names for it and we ended up with ‘Hygiene for All,’ came up with a mission statement, because I felt so passionate about it.”

Isabella said she set up a Facebook page for her newly formed initiative and asked people to donate products for her cause by sending them to her home. Eventually her bedroom was piled with items in bins waiting to be distributed to those who needed them. Mineola-based nonprofit food bank Island Harvest organized a “stuff-a-bus” event Oct. 6 at Comsewogue’s homecoming football game, during which attendees of the game were encouraged to bring food items to be donated to those in need. Isabella and Hygiene for All provided the food bank with more than 100 boxes of feminine hygiene products, dozens of toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, and deodorants. In all the haul amassed nearly 300 pounds, according to Gordon.

“It was incredibly inspiring to have my 15-year-old come up with the idea,” the BOE member said. “Inspiring and very exciting. She didn’t need much assistance at all. She had a vision for this and really wanted to be able to help people and she’s done that and plans to continue to do that.”

Isabella said she hopes to one day turn the project into a charitable venture and is already interested in expanding it to more communities and school districts. She said she hopes to pursue a degree in medicine, at this point with her eye on one day becoming a midwife. Feminine hygiene products are among the most requested items for all food pantries, as many homeless and disadvantaged women are forced to choose between spending money on items like these and food, according to Food Bank for New York City, which holds an annual campaign calling for products for women.

“I feel very proud, especially of my community, so I’d say it went pretty well,” Isabella said.

To donate visit Hygiene for All’s Facebook page and send a private message to get the address.

North Shore Jewish Center. File photo

Congregants from North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station and Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook punctuated a difficult week with a Nov. 4 event meant to inspire and unite the community.

The state of Israel declared its independence in May 1948, and to commemorate the 70th anniversary this year, North Shore Jewish Center and Temple Isaiah came together for a long-planned celebration called Celebrate Israel @ 70 which took on an additional purpose following the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

On Oct. 27, while many of the congregation at Tree of Life, and Jewish people at similar houses of worship across the country prayed, a gunman murdered 11 people and wounded seven others. It is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States in American history, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Nov. 4 celebration was aptly timed for some.

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook speaks during an event at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jeff Station celebrating the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Independence. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It really has been a balm, a healing experience as well as a happy experience,” said Rabbi Aaron Benson of NSJC of the event. “Given the historic events of the past week, that the event would happen this Sunday of all times has had an extra value and meaning as a moment of healing and community togetherness, in this case surrounding something hopeful and joyous.”

Committees from both synagogues had been planning the celebration for about eight months, according to Eric Steinberg, NSJC’s chairman of the Israeli Committee. The free event featured speakers discussing technology in Israel, flight attendants from El Al Israel Airlines, water desalination and its impact helping the country grow crops in the desert, lunch, events for the congregants’ children and more.

“If you notice we’re not talking politics, we’re not talking anything about that,” Steinberg said. “This was a determined thought by the committee just to do something positive … I wanted to bring the focus of Israel to the community.”

North Shore Jewish Center also hosted events in the wake of the shooting meant as a remembrance for the victims and to provide a sense of community togetherness, according to Benson. As a precaution, the rabbi said the synagogue bolstered security ahead of the event, including a Suffolk County Police Department presence.

“In many ways, the country as a whole has been in mourning and Jewish communities have responded in much the same way as when a friend might suffer a loss,” he said. “It has never happened in quite this way to the Jewish community in America before … And while one shouldn’t go through life fearful or paranoid that people are out to hurt you, the idea that in all the ways a person is Jewish, one aspect of that is that there are people who may simply not like you because of your religious background. That is a feature of Jewish life, and it does mean that terrible things can happen because of one’s religious identity.”

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Temple Isaiah echoed much of his colleague’s sentiments in speaking to those in attendance.

“Even as we remember, even as we continue to mourn, we celebrate together, we gain inspiration from each other,” he said.

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Carlos Encarnacion, Santiago Tavarez and Juan Lopez-Enriquez are charged with allegedly operating a drug ring out of a Port Jefferson Station barber shop. Photos from DA's office

Three men involved with the Man Cave Barbershop in Port Jefferson Station have been indicted for allegedly selling narcotics, including heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, which they allegedly marketed as heroin, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D).

Juan Lopez-Enriquez, 41, the barber shop’s manager, along with fellow barber Carlos Encarnacion, 33, and shop regular Santiago Tavarez, 64, allegedly used the premises of their shop to both cut and sell narcotics at approximately one kilogram a month, making approximately $50,000 a month from these drug sales, according to Sini.

“The Man Cave gave barbershop customers a choice of hair styles and a choice of drugs,” Sini (D) said at a press conference where his office unsealed the 53-count indictment of the three individuals Oct. 24. “When they should have been focusing on cutting hair, these defendants were in the back room, cutting fentanyl and cocaine.”

Starting in January, law enforcement from the District Attorney’s Heroin Task Force, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, New York bureau of the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the Suffolk County Police Department began investigating the alleged drug ring, using physical surveillance and electronic surveillance such as wiretapping. The police forces executed search warrants Oct. 4.

A search of the barber shop premises along with the other locations affiliated with the defendants revealed a hydraulic kilo press, two scales, packaging materials, approximately 20 grams of cocaine and approximately 200 grams of powder cutting agent, which is used to dilute narcotics to make them more profitable, according to the district attorney’s office.

Islip-based Attorney Robert Macedonio, who is representing Lopez-Enriquez, did not respond to a request for comment by press time. The defense attorneys for Tavarez and Encarnacion could not be reached.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon (D) said several deputy sheriffs worked undercover to aid in the business’ surveillance.

“Deputy Sheriffs are working in close collaboration with the District Attorney’s Heroin Task Force, and this multi-agency effort is getting more drugs off our streets and making our communities safer,” Toulon said.

A loaded semi-automatic handgun and a box containing 38 cartridges of ammunition, which allegedly belonged to Lopez-Enriquez, were also seized. The alleged dealer is also being charged with criminal possession of a firearm.

If convicted both Lopez-Enriquez and Tavarez face eight to 20 years in prison for the top count of first-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance. Encarnacion faces a maximum of three to 10 years with several counts of second- and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.

“With fatal overdoses on the rise, law enforcement remains diligent in its pursuit to arrest those criminals seeking to fill their pockets on the vulnerabilities of others,” said Angel Melendez, the special agent in charge of HSI New York.

Man Cave Barbershop has since closed its doors, though review sites like Yelp show overall positive reviews from customers.

Bail was set for Lopez-Enriquez at $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond; $200,000 or $400,000 bond for Talverez; and $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond for Encarnacion. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Jacob Kubetz.

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Body tissue belonging to James Nielsen, 17, who died in July, could prove helpful for researchers of aggressive, rare form of cancer

James Nielsen, 17, of Port Jefferson Station, while on a family trip in Tennessee to see the solar eclipse in 2017, just weeks before he and his family learned he had cancer. Photo from Steven Nielsen

Making sense of loss is never easy, though a Port Jefferson Station family has drawn strength from their 17-year-old son’s bravery and desire to help others, even in his last days.

“Bad things happen to people and this just happened to happen to me, and we’re just going to do the best we can with it,” James Nielsen told his father Steven when they learned the 17-year-old had been diagnosed with a form of cancer so rare and devastating only one documented case of survival exists.

James Nielsen, 17, of Port Jefferson Station, after becoming an Eagle Scout. Photo from Steven Nielsen

The Comsewogue High School student was diagnosed with NUT midline carcinoma in December 2017, an aggressive form of cancer akin to a death sentence. Despite the devastating prognosis, the Eagle Scout from Troop 454 engaged in rare, barely fleeting moments of despair, according to his parents, even spending the day he died — July 16, 2018 — playing UNO card games and watching the World Cup.

James’ form of cancer is characterized by tumors that form in bones or soft tissue. No effective treatment for NMC exists, there are no guidelines, and current approaches to treatment are based on discussions among a few oncologists who each have had a single experience treating this disease, according to the writings of Dr. Christopher French, a pathologist researching NMC at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston, who also advised James’ family after his diagnosis.

“The cancer type that he had is extremely rare and he has a yet even rarer variant of that cancer,” French said in a phone interview. “His tumor was really quite unique. It had a different gene, a variant that is extremely uncommon.”

In late August 2017, upon arriving at cross-country team practice at Comsewogue, James’ mother Jean Nielsen said she noticed a sizable lump on her son’s leg. She said he brushed off her concern, went to practice, and even ran an additional mile when he got home. That night, she had her husband Steven Nielsen examine James’ leg. He said it looked swollen but not necessarily alarming, but when he touched the tumor it was rock solid. A trip that same night to a walk-in medical clinic led to a visit to Stony Brook University Hospital, and by that weekend the family knew their oldest child of four had cancer.

Initially doctors believed he had Ewing’s sarcoma, a diagnosis with a far higher survival rate and clearer treatment options than NMC. In the early stages of his battle, James’ mother said she wrote “treatable and curable” on the first page of a journal the family kept pertaining to his illness. James began what was expected to be a 10-week cycle of chemotherapy, but by the second week of October 2017, it became clear the tumor wasn’t responding to treatment, and immediate surgery would be necessary.

At about 10 p.m. Oct. 12, 2017, just six hours before he was scheduled to head to Manhattan for surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, James’ surgeon called and informed his parents there was a possibility he would need to remove their son’s entire leg, and not just portions of the thigh muscle and femur as initially expected.

“I’ll never forget, he looked at us, he sat silent for a moment, and he goes, ‘OK — we’ll do what we have to do,’” James’ father recalled. “And then it was pretty much, ‘Good night.’”

During hour 17 of a 20-hour surgery, the Nielsens were finally informed James would be able to keep his leg.

A positive outlook is often cited as essential in situations like James’, and for the Nielsens positivity flowed on a two-way street.

James Nielsen rides around Manhattan on Thanksgiving night 2017 after undergoing a round of chemotherapy. Photo from Steven Nielsen

“I guess we’ve always just kind of been in the place like, ‘It doesn’t help’ — letting your head spin and certainly getting overwhelmed by emotion — you have to kind of keep everything together for him,” Steven Nielsen said. “He made us so strong. We made him strong, but he led the way.”

Being able to salvage his leg was a small, yet short-lived victory. By December, doctors were finally able to pinpoint his diagnosis. Staring down a cancer with such long odds of survival precipitated an unusual response from the Nielsens — a trip to Disney World.

“We didn’t let it control us, we controlled it,” the father said. Self-pity was never in James’ vernacular. “We were never naive about the possibilities of what could happen, but we also, all of us, really felt that it wasn’t worth putting your energy there. Put energy toward your cure. And so we lived life that way.”

The family dedicated their son’s last months to embracing life, spending Thanksgiving evening perusing Manhattan after an eight-hour round of chemo, looking at stores on Madison Avenue, a night his father remembered as “magical.” They visited a ranch in upstate New York just weeks before his death, one of James’ favorite places to vacation. They went to the beach.

While their focus was getting the most of their time remaining, James’ parents were far from ready to give up the fight. Feeling like their experience at Memorial Sloan Kettering left something to be desired, Steven Nielsen did some research that led him to French. James participated in some clinical trials and spent time at the Boston facility, where he and his father even managed to find time to explore the city and visit colleges with notable pharmacy programs, a field in which James had expressed a future interest.

The father’s dogged pursuit of answers for his son led French to mistakenly call him “doctor” during one of their numerous correspondence.

“He wrote in a way that made me think that he knew quite a bit about medicine, I just assumed he was a physician,” French said, laughing. Both Nielsens are teachers in the Comsewogue district.

French is hoping to soon be provided with donated tissue from James for the purpose of research, one of the teen’s dying wishes. His will be the first cancer cell line, which are living cancer cells used for research, with NMC that French will have been able to get his hands on, an essential gift if there’s any hope for untangling the mysteries of the cancer form.

“The tissue that he donated at his autopsy for research was priceless, and potentially a very valuable tool to perform research with,” French said. “He was just a sweet individual. It tore my heart out when I met him very briefly … It was quite riveting to meet him just sort of knowing the truth, that this was likely to not go well.”

For James the decision to donate tissue for research was reflexive and required about two minutes of thought, according to his parents. The teen was known for reusing Dixie cups and napkins because of his aversion to creating waste.

The Nielsen family goes pumpkin picking shortly before he underwent surgery in Oct. 2017 to remove a tumor from his right leg. Photo from Steven Nielsen

“For him it was just what you do — he didn’t think it was a big deal,” his mother said. “What we look to as heroic or whatever is not really that heroic. Sometimes unassuming people are the most heroic, not people who are very vociferous.”

She said the family can take some comfort in knowing there’s a possibility James’ struggles could lead to a better future for someone else.

“I think if you believe everyone has a purpose, you’d like to think such a horrible result would end with something purposeful, like contributing toward the cure for other people,” the father said. “For us to have him taken away, you hope that that’s the reason.”

The Nielsens expressed gratitude for the support and well wishes they’ve received from the community. Some of James’ classmates have taken up fundraising efforts to get a memorial built in downtown Port Jefferson. Members of the school’s marching band wore pins honoring their fallen peer at the homecoming football game this month. Still, his parents stressed James was not interested in pity or ritualistic gestures of remembrance.

“He was very kind, very sweet, very familial — old kind of qualities that aren’t maybe appreciated as much these days,” his mom said when asked how she hoped he’d be remembered. “He was very selfless.”

To donate to aid in NMC research visit http://www.myjimmyfundpage.org/give/nmcregistryfund.

A man allegedly entered a Port Jefferson Station gas station Oct. 13, displayed what appeared to be a gun and demanded cash. Photos from SCPD

A man wearing a ski mask allegedly entered Speedway gas station in Port Jefferson Station Oct. 13, displayed what appeared to be a hand gun and demanded cash, according to Suffolk County police.

Sixth Squad detectives are investigating the incident, which occurred at the gas station located at 501 Patchogue Road in Port Jefferson Station at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning, police said. When the masked man made the request, the gas station employee did not comply, and the robber fled, and there were no injuries, police said.

Detectives believe this robbery is connected to an armed robbery that occurred at Sunoco gas station, located at 1575 Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, Oct. 7 at 9:45 a.m. During that incident, a man entered the store, displayed what appeared to be a gun and demanded cash. The clerk complied and the man fled. No one was injured.

The suspect, pictured above, is described as light-skinned black, 25 to 30 years old, 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall with a medium build and a goatee.

Detectives are asking anyone with information about these incidents to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

Many businesses in the Village of Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station will be ‘dressed in pink’ throughout the month of October.

Pink pumpkins, chocolate nights and yoga classes will be part of this year’s Paint Port Pink, Mather Hospital’s month-long October breast cancer awareness community outreach in Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station. The event was created in 2015 to raise awareness about the disease, share information and education and foster solidarity in the community.

Employees at Mather Hospital will celebrate Wear Pink Day on Oct. 9.

New this year are Pink Your Pumpkin and Pink Your Windows contests and chocolate-making classes. It Takes a Village Wellness will offer yoga classes with a portion of the registration fees going to the Fortunato Breast Health Center’s Fund for Uninsured and Underinsured. 

Paint Port Pink begins on Oct. 1 with Turn Your Pink Lights On!, when local merchants and residents will be asked to light up Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station. On Wear Pink Day, Oct. 9, Mather employees and community residents will be encouraged to dress in pink and to post their photos on Facebook and Instagram using #paintportpink. 

Local residents and merchants can Pink Their Pumpkins and Pink Their Windows in contests designed to raise awareness about breast cancer. Month-long promotions by local businesses will raise funds for the Fund for Uninsured and Underinsured. Mather has teamed up with about 120 local community partners — businesses and professional offices — to help spread the word about the importance of breast health.

Mammograms can help save lives

The American Cancer Society reports that the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer in her life is about one in eight. That is why increased awareness, education and early detection are important parts of breast health care.

Fortunato Breast Health Center co-medical directors Dr. Michele Price and Dr. Joseph Carrucciu.

A mammogram can reveal a tumor as much as two years before you or your health care professional can feel it. Following the American College of Radiology guidelines, the Fortunato Breast Health Center recommends that you get annual mammography screening starting at age 40. In some higher risk situations, earlier mammography screening or additional breast imaging studies, such as ultrasound, may be recommended. To make an appointment, call 631-476-2771, ext. 1.

If you are uninsured or underinsured, you may be eligible for no cost or discounted screenings through the center’s Fund for Uninsured and Underinsured. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer and need financial assistance, contact Pink Aid at www.pinkaid.org.

Women receiving their annual mammograms will now have even more accurate screenings thanks to two new state-of-the-art 3-D mammography units at the Fortunato Breast Health Center. Advances in imaging technology deliver highly detailed images that enhance a radiologist’s ability to provide accurate diagnoses. Improvements in ergonomic design allow for improved patient comfort and relaxation. The units also protect patients by delivering the lowest radiation dose of all FDA approved 3-D mammography systems.

“The mammographic images are very clear and detailed, which helps us to identify abnormalities at the smallest possible size,” says Dr. Michelle Price, co-medical director of the breast center. 

Above, one of the new 3-D mamography units at Mather Hospital

The new devices allow for improved detection rates and diagnostic accuracy over older mammography technology through the addition of tomosynthesis, also known as three-dimensional (3-D) mammography. This allows radiologists to see more than what is shown on a standard digital mammogram. “A traditional mammogram offers a top-down picture from compression of the breast tissue. With tomosynthesis, the ‘3-D’ portion of the exam, we get thin cross-sectional images so we can see what it looks like at different angles — in that respect, it is almost like a CAT scan,” said Price.

Having your mammogram done by the same center year after year allows your doctor to compare prior images and look for subtle changes or abnormalities. This can allow for early detection of breast cancer, which in turn can lead to life-saving treatment. “Being able to look back at a history of breast images and compare with prior films is critical for being able to interpret studies correctly. That’s a major advantage of coming to a place where you have established your medical records,” said Price. “It improves the accuracy of the reading.” 

Special community events

Paint Port Pink will offer several events throughout the month of October hosted by Mather’s community partners. Register for events at www.paintportpink.org.

Monday, Oct. 1: Turn Your Pink Lights On!

Thursday, Oct. 4, 6 to 8 p.m.: Chocolate Making Class, Chocolate Works, Stony Brook. Join them for some sweet fun molding and decorating your own chocolate creations! Registration is required.

Tuesday, Oct. 9, Noon: Wear Pink Day, Mather Hospital, Port Jefferson. Get dressed up in your best pink outfit, take a photo and post using #paintportpink

Wednesday, Oct. 10: Pink Sale, Mather Hospital, Port Jefferson. Come and find some pink treasures at the Mather Hospital Thrift and Gift Shop lobby sale. 

Saturday, Oct. 14, Noon & 1 p.m.: Community Reiki Circle, It Takes a Village Wellness, Port Jefferson with two chances to participate in and learn about the power of reiki. Registration is required.

Friday, Oct. 19, 6 to 7 p.m.: Meditation Session, It Takes a Village Wellness, Port Jefferson. Attend a meditation session to enhance your health and tune in to mindfulness. Registration is required. 

Friday, Oct. 19, 7 to 9 p.m.: Chocolate Making Class, Chocolate Works, Stony Brook. Join them for some sweet fun molding and decorating your own chocolate creations! Registration is required. 

Monday, Oct. 22, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.: Yoga for Health class, Mather Hospital, Port Jefferson offered through It Takes a Village Wellness in Mather Hospital’s conference room B. Registration is required.

Friday, Oct. 26, 12 to 2 p.m.: Wellness Luncheon, Nantucket’s, Port Jefferson. Hosted by It Takes a Village Wellness, attend their “whole health” wellness luncheon and learn about staying healthy naturally. Registration is required. 

Saturday, Oct. 27, 9 a.m to 1:30 p.m.: HealthyU, Mather Hospital, Port Jefferson, a seminar series and health fair focused on physical, emotional and financial well-being. Registration is required. Call 631-686-7879.

Wednesday, Oct. 31: Winners of the Pink Your Pumpkin and Pink Your Window contests will be announced. 

* Proceeds from all events benefit the Fortunato Breast Health Center Fund for Uninsured and Underinsured.

Month-Long Promotions

Chick-fil-A, Port Jefferson Station: $1 from all milk shake sales during the month of October will benefit the Fund for Uninsured.

LI Pour House, Port Jefferson Station: Hosting Wine Down Wednesdays. Every Wednesday during the month of October a glass of wine will be $4 with 10 percent of your purchase benefiting the Fund for Uninsured.

East Main & Main, Port Jefferson: $1 from all pink donut sales during the month of October to benefit the Fund for Uninsured.

Amazing Olive, Port Jefferson: $1 from all extra virgin olive oil sales during the month of October to benefit the Fund for Uninsured.

Luck Soap, Port Jefferson: 40 percent of all Luck Soap Pink Ribbon soap sales (available for sale at Amazing Olive, Port Jefferson and Patchogue locations) during the month of October to benefit the Fund for Uninsured.

The Soap Box, Port Jefferson: 20 percent off Pink Sugar Kiss items during the month of October.

Yogo Delish, Port Jefferson: Donate $1 with your purchase during the month of October and get a $1 off coupon for your next visit.

Tapestry Salon, Mount Sinai: A portion of all pink hair extension sales during the month of October will benefit the Fund for Uninsured.

Cutting Hut, Port Jefferson Station: 10 percent of all pink hair extension sales during the month of October will benefit the Fund for Uninsured.

The Pie, Port Jefferson: Give a donation during the month of October and receive a free Pink Lemonade.

MAC Hair Salon, Mt. Sinai: Pink hair strands for $15 or $10 per pink foil during October with 50 percent of the proceeds to benefit the Fund for Uninsured.

Theatre Three, Port Jefferson: Receive a 20 percent discount on the purchase of your tickets in October when you mention Paint Port Pink.

For more information, please visit www.paintportpink.org.

All photos courtesy of John T. Mather Memorial Hospital

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