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Lax Out Cancer

Eric Swanson and his parents lead the Pleasantville and Shoreham-Wading River boys lacrosse teams out onto the field during the Lax Out Cancer fundraiser games April 28. Photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

Cindy Swanson, of Shoreham, said she thought she’d never be so closely affected by cancer, but that changed when her 2-year-old son Eric was diagnosed with a rare form of the disease in March 2017.

Eric had a large tumor in his jaw, with additional bone lesions attacking his clavicle, elbow and C7 vertebrae. He was diagnosed as a multisystem Langerhans cell histiocytosis cancer patient — which affects one in 200,000 children — as the disease was attacking his lymph nodes and skin.

Eric was one of four beneficiaries of the Shoreham-Wading River 10th annual Lax Out Cancer event, which features lacrosse games, a dinner and raffle, the proceeds of which are donated to local families struggling as a result of the deadly disease.

The 2018 Lax Out Cancer fundraiser beneficiaries Port Jefferson Station’s Jackson, Miller Place’s Blake and Shoreham’s Eric. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s very heartwarming,” Swanson said of the community support she received, especially at the April 28 event. “You always think that something like this is never going to happen to you, but it does happen to you. Things like this — it’s amazing, just the support for the kids to feel special.”

Eric is currently in the midst of 52 weeks of chemotherapy at Stony Brook University Hospital. Noted as a kind, caring kid with an infectious smile, the Shoreham resident loves playing with trucks and learning about dinosaurs, according to his mother. His favorite thing to do is pretend to be a fireman. He was walked out onto the field by two of them during the opening ceremony.

“I think that it’s a wonderful thing for the community to get together and help families in need, and we all know what these families are going through — they need all the help that they can get,” said Shoreham-Wading River Wildcat Athletic Club President Ed Troyano. “I think that it’s really a testament to this community when they give their time and contribute to the cause. When you look around today, you see the commitment and their time to put an event like this together — I’m grateful for all of the volunteers who do this year after year. I’m humbled by it.”

Blake Doyen, a 15-year-old Miller Place lacrosse player; 11-year-old Jackson from Port Jefferson Station; and 13-year-old Kaelyn McCandless from Lindenhurst were the other beneficiaries of the Shoreham-Wading River boys lacrosse game against Pleasantville, and the girls lacrosse game against Rocky Point. The boys junior varsity squad also faced off against the junior varsity team from Pleasantville.

“It’s huge to participate in the Lax Out Cancer event,” senior Shoreham-Wading River lacrosse player Tim Cairo said. “Pleasantville is a great team, and for them to come all this way for the cause today is great.”

Blake was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in February, an aggressive acute leukemia that progresses quickly and affects the lymphoid-cell-producing stem cells, in particular, a type of white blood cell called T lymphocytes, which make antibodies that help fight infection. He has started intensive chemotherapy at Stony Brook hospital, where he will receive treatment for the next three years. Blake is an energetic and enthusiastic teen who, although not able to return to school or play lacrosse for the remainder of the year, is determined to fight this disease until he wins, so that he can get back to doing all the things that he loves, according to his family.

“You always think that something like this is never going to happen to you, but it does happen to you. Things like this — it’s amazing, just the support for the kids to feel special.”

— Cindy Swanson

Jackson, a second-time beneficiary of the event, taking part in it last year, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia — a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow with excess immature white blood cells — in December of 2013. He finished his treatment and was in remission, but cancer returned. He had to undergo intense chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, according to his family, and is struggling with complications from graft-versus-host disease, a condition that occurs when donor bone marrow or stem cells attack the recipient. Jackson, noted as a lover of sports, superheroes and video games, was in the hospital from December until March and will continue his chemotherapy treatment for the next two years.

Kaelyn has been fighting brain cancer for the last two years. She has received the maximum dose of radiation and chemotherapy, but her last two scans have shown something has returned at the tumor site. Doctors are in the process of planning their next course of action on the youngest of seven children.

“I’m thankful that I can be a small part of this — to be able to give back to the community,” Shoreham-Wading River head boys lacrosse coach Mike Taylor said. “I am very happy that we are continuing such a significant event. I feel so fortunate to have such a special group of parents, and a supportive community. It is very important to me to have our athletes involved in and understand the importance of being a concerned and productive community member. It is my goal as their coach to develop these young men into strong leaders, students, employees and family members through athletics and community service events.”

Former Lax Out Cancer proceed recipients also attended the event. So far, $1,540 has been raised of the $5,000 goal through a GoFundMe page. Visit to find out more about the recipients and to donate.

Bill Landon contributed reporting

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.”

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Glen, Zachary and Renée Cote are receiving a new home on Helme Avenue in Miller Place as part of the homes for returning veterans. Photo from Renée Cote

By Desirée Keegan

After a series of unfortunate events, a string of fortunate ones led the Cote family to their soon-to-be new home in Miller Place.

Glen and Renée Cote, and their 7-year-old son Zachary, were chosen to be the receivers of the 11th home for returning veterans, a program put in place by Rocky Point VFW Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore and developer and owner of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point Mark Baisch.

Renée Cote said to be chosen for the home on Helme Avenue is a dream come true.

“It’s extremely overwhelming — we feel extremely blessed,” she said. “I’m just happy that my son is going to have a home and that my husband and I are going to be able to live in a community that’s done nothing but support us.”

The framing is up for the new home on Helme Avenue in Miller Place, which the Cote family will receive as part of the homes for returning veterans. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The framing is up for the new home on Helme Avenue in Miller Place, which the Cote family will receive as part of the homes for returning veterans. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The family has, until recently, lived in a rental home in Sound Beach, but found out in March that it was being evicted because the landlord had let the home fall into foreclosure. But that’s not where the hardships began.

Glen Cote, who was a U.S. Army combat medic from 1988 to 1992 and specialized in deployment training and immunization for a bulk of army medics in the Gulf War, met and married his wife following his service. In 2002, Renée Cote was diagnosed with a rare and painful metabolic disorder called acute intermittent porphyria, which requires expensive biweekly treatments that she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital. As a result of her illness, which there is no known cure for, she has suffered three strokes.

In 2009, the couple welcomed Zachary into their lives, who in June 2014 was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, and has since endured 42 rounds of radiation and nine months of intense chemotherapy. His treatment had to be halted when he was also diagnosed with acute intermittent porphyria.

“We’ve had the most horrific circumstances happen to us, but in every event there’s been such a huge blessing that’s come out of it,” Renée Cote said. Two years ago, the family was chosen to be recipients of a fundraising effort during Shoreham-Wading River’s Lax Out Cancer fundraiser, which supports local children with cancer. The family was chosen again as the beneficiaries of this year’s event.

“This isn’t a free movie ticket or a handbag. This is a home that we otherwise would not have been able to afford. We’re still trying to process it.”

—Renée Cote

“We’ve mad a lot of friends, a lot of contacts,” Zachary’s mother said. “There are so many people in this area that genuinely want to help people, and it’s so amazing to be on the receiving end of it. It’s awkward, but it’s very humbling. My husband and I just look at each other and feel extremely blessed.”

Due to his illness, Zachary had to start kindergarten a year late, and his parents were worried about how he would manage school, but Miller Place school district has also been supportive of the family, and their fears melted into appreciation.

“The way that the teachers and faculty have personally taken to Zachary on a whole different level, it’s just incredible to see the love, and it’s a very humbling feeling to know that strangers are so willing to help,” his father said. “It was tremendously important that we stay in the district, and for this to become available, so we can set roots here and Zachary can be stable and make friends in the neighborhood. I couldn’t ask for much more at this point in time.”

Glen Cote also suffered a serious incapacitating injury on the job, to the point where he qualified for Social Security disability. Testing showed that his injuries led to a diagnosis of degenerative disk disease and shoulder and knee arthritis.

Following the eviction notice, the Landmark Properties owner was connected with the family when a friend of the Cote family contacted the vice president of Bridgehampton National Bank, who sent out an email to the chain. The manager of the Rocky Point branch knew what Baisch does for veterans, and immediately contacted him on their behalf.

That’s when Baisch asked to meet them.

Zachary Cote enjoys a day at the beach. Photo from Renée Cote
Zachary Cote enjoys a day at the beach. Photo from Renée Cote

“When they came in her, I didn’t know them from Adam, but they were very forthcoming and told me their story. It was a little overwhelming to take in,” he said.

He told them he’d contact Cognitore and get back to them, but the family wasn’t going to get their hopes up.

“We left thinking that there was just no way that we’ll be able to get this to go in our favor,” Renée Cote said, but the following week they were asked to come back to his office and were told the good news. “I honestly never thought something like this would happen to us. This isn’t a free movie ticket or a handbag. This is a home that we otherwise would not have been able to afford. We’re still trying to process it.”

The family will be moved in by Christmas, which Baisch is thrilled about, after he found out that the Make-A-Wish Foundation couldn’t send Zachary to LEGOLAND until next year.

“The happenstance of this is incredible,” he said. “Can you think of anyone else more deserving? I feel privileged to do what I do. It’s been a very good year for me. I’m on cloud nine.”

Knowing that they’ll never have to move again is what excites the family most.

“My son will make marks on the walls and I’ll tell him you did that when you were 8, you did that when you were 9,” the mother said. “Now knowing that no one is going to come knocking on my door telling me ‘you need to get out’ because of somebody else is mind blowing.”