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lung cancer

James Riordan posing by a display of the Lunar Excursion Module used in Apollo 13. Photo from Jessica Frisina

By Rita J. Egan

When James Riordan, 82, died in 2016 after battling lung cancer, many would think his greatest contribution to the world was his involvement with the Apollo 13 space mission. But to his relatives, it was his sense of family and kindness that touched others most.

Inheriting his sense of generosity, the former Stony Brook resident’s family participated in the American Lung Association Fight for Air Climb April 1 for the second straight time, raising $1,512 for the cause in his memory. This year’s event included 600 participants climbing the 55 flights of stairs at One Penn Plaza, a New York City skyscraper, the equivalent of 1,210 steps.

Granddaughter Jessica Frisina, of Rocky Point, organized Team Apollo in honor of her fond memories of the aerospace engineer with the Northrop Grumman Corporation.

Jessica Frisina, on right, with her aunt Kathy Bern, stepfather Bob Riordan and stepbrother Matt, who started Team Apollo to raise funds for the American Lung Association in the memory of her grandfather James Riordan. Photo from the American Lung Association

“He was completely humble,” she said. “He was so willing to help anybody and everybody. He just wanted to lend a helping hand to anyone that was willing to take it — just a generous and kind person. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”

Riordan, who lived in Stony Brook with his wife Ruth since 1964, was an integral member of the Apollo 13 mission. Due to his work helping to direct the team on the construction of the Lunar Excursion Module and its safe return, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon in 1970 along with his fellow members of the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team.

His son Bob Riordan, Frisina’s stepfather, said while growing up he and his siblings didn’t realize just how important their father’s job was. It wasn’t until they were going through their father’s books, or hearing from friends who worked at Grumman, that they realized just how much he had accomplished.

He said they were amazed that their father was in the control room during the Apollo 13 mission and treasure the book “Race to the Moon,” where James Riordan is pictured in a control room with astronaut Neil Armstrong.

“We can’t believe we had a father who did this for a living,” Bob Riordan said.

The son said he isn’t surprised his father didn’t talk much about his work though, because of his modesty.

“He never cared about keeping up with the Joneses,” he said. “All he ever cared about was his family.”

James Riordan suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the early stages of emphysema, and about a year before his passing, he was diagnosed with stage 0 lung cancer. His son said his father smoked for decades, starting as a teenager.

Frisina said she got the idea to start the Fight for Air Climb team after her grandfather’s death, and Riordan said he wasn’t surprised.

“He was so willing to help anybody and everybody. He just wanted to lend a helping hand to anyone that was willing to take it — just a generous and kind person.”

—Jessica Frisina

“I was so proud of her for doing that, but that’s the kind of person Jessica is,” he said.

Frisina said while the Riordans are her stepfamily, she considers them family all the same. Riordan said his father and stepdaughter hit it off as soon as they met when she was 7 years old.

“They took a liking to each other the first day they met,” Riordan said. “I always felt kind of emotional when those two were together. He was the type of man that any children who came into his life just took to him — that’s just the type of guy he was.”

While joining the Fight for Air Climb was a last-minute decision in 2016, with only a few relatives being able to come out and cheer them on, this year she said almost a dozen family members came out to show support for her, Riordan, her stepbrother Matt Riordan and her aunt Kathy Bern, who traveled from North Carolina.

Frisina said she looks forward to participating in the event again next year and knows participation from the family will only continue to grow.

Her uncle Jim Riordan was on hand this year to show support. He said Frisina always had a great appreciation for his father.

“She is by every definition a grandchild in this family,” he said.

Bob Riordan said he was in better shape for this year’s event after finding out how difficult the climb was last year.

“The first time I did it, I thought I was going to join my father,” Riordan joked.

Frisina said climbing the 55 flights of stairs is supposed to simulate how it feels to have a lung ailment, and once you pass flight 10, it becomes more and more difficult to breathe.

“It initially feels amazing to complete something like that,” Frisina said. “But in reality, it makes you think as you’re doing it. [My grandfather] had to deal with this every day — feeling like this and overcoming walking and not being able to breathe. It makes you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes who’s dealing with it.”

Hugo Rizzo who raises money for research in their memory. Photo from Hugo Rizzo

One Northport resident found inspiration through loss.

Hugo Rizzo lost two brothers to lung cancer, and has since devoted his time to raising money for lung cancer treatment research.

“Mothers don’t deserve to bury their children,” Rizzo said through tears in a phone interview. “I had to tell my mother both times that her sons died. It has been up to me both times. Nobody deserves to get lung cancer.”

Rizzo said his family’s struggle is what makes him so passionate about being involved in cancer research organizations.

Carlos Rizzo who died from lung cancer at 60. Photo from Hugo Rizzo
Carlos Rizzo who died from lung cancer at 60. Photo from Hugo Rizzo

He also touched on the stigma he believes is associated with lung cancer patients, and how he wants to help change that.

“The stigma is that ‘you brought it on yourself,’” Rizzo said, “that it’s a smoker’s disease.” He said he feels this assumption is unfair, and “lung cancer patients share the same fears as colon and brain cancer patients.”

Rizzo said lung cancer is one of the most underfunded cancers in terms of research. According to LUNGevity Foundation, lung cancer is the leading cancer death, but only receives six percent of federal research dollars. That comes out to $2,366 per life lost, compared to $24,167 per life lost to breast cancer, and $14,510 to prostate cancer. LUNGevity also reported 60 to 65 percent of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers, and 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer patients have never smoked in their lives.

This year marks the first time Rizzo is part of the organizing committee for non-profit Free to Breathe’s Lung Cancer 5K in New York City and Brooklyn. The event is on Sunday, Oct. 30, starting at 10:30 a.m. at Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn. Rizzo said he is proud to help and wants to make sure the event is fun.

“This shouldn’t be a morose event, it should be hopeful, hopeful that we find better treatment,” he said.

The event includes a 5K run, walk, and kids run, as well as other activities, including face painting, a magic show and a yoga warm-up. There will also be guest speakers and a heroes wall to help show young children they are just as much heroes for being involved as the superheroes they read about.

Rudy Rizzo, who died from lung cancer at 64. Photo from Hugo Rizzo
Rudy Rizzo, who died from lung cancer at 64. Photo from Hugo Rizzo

Free To Breathe is a nonprofit organization made up of lung cancer survivors, advocates, researchers, health care professionals and industry leaders, all working to raise money for lung cancer research, increase the number of lung cancer patients participating in clinical trials, and build and empower the lung cancer community.

Rizzo said the nonprofit donates 83 percent of the money it raises to research and the development of programs.

“Before I get involved, I make sure [an organization] fits well with me,” he said. “And they give back such a high amount of what they fundraise.”

This year Rizzo said they are expecting between 400 and 500 participants, and are hoping to raise between $45,000 and $60,000. He said they were able to raise more than $40,000 last year.

“This is a movement that is growing,” he said. “If I can do my part to help others, to make sure they don’t go through what my brothers went through, then that is time well invested.”

To find out more information on Free to Breathe’s Lung Cancer 5K or to donate, visit www.freetobreathe.org.

Daniel Stratton (center) speaks at a press conference about a resolution to ban smoking at athletic fields with Legislator William Spencer, (left) and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (right). Photo from Jennifer Mish

By Wenhao Ma

It’s official: You can no longer smoke on any athletic field in the Town of Huntington.

The town board unanimously passed legislation at an Aug. 16 meeting to prohibit smoking on athletic fields across Huntington.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) originally brought up the resolution in June and was supported by Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport).

“I am pleased that we have passed a common-sense measure to limit exposure to secondhand smoke at our athletic fields,” Cuthbertson said in an email.

Smoking in town parks and beaches has been banned for years — but athletic fields have not been specifically addressed in town laws. The new legislation, according to Spencer’s office, is a response to residents who have expressed concerns about being exposed to secondhand smoke at sporting events.

“Our youth, parents and coaches all deserve to breathe air free from secondhand smoke when visiting local sports fields,” Spencer said in an email. “This is critical to protecting the health of our residents and I applaud Councilman Cuthbertson and the rest of the town board for moving quickly to close this apparent loophole in the smoking policy.”

According to the legislation, no person shall smoke a tobacco product, herbal product, marijuana, cigarette, electronic cigarette, pipe, cigar, vapors, e-liquids or other legal marijuana derivatives in an outdoor playground or athletic field that is town-owned property.

Facts from the American Lung Association show how secondhand smoke affects children’s health.
Facts from the American Lung Association show how secondhand smoke affects children’s health.

Spencer thanked Cuthbertson for drafting the new legislation, which he called “a bold step” in helping to reduce the rate of smoking among the youth and ensuring clean air for all who visit the town’s sports fields.

“Everything counts,” Spencer said in a statement. “Even a child becoming conditioned to see cigarettes out in public or out at a ball field has an impact. [The legislation] is something that in the long term will save lives.”

Daniel Stratton was one of the concerned residents, and he said he brought the proposed code amendment to Cuthbertson’s attention.

“I noticed some of my children’s coaches leaving the dugout to smoke a cigarette just outside the fence of the field,” Stratton said in an email. “Aside from this being an obviously unhealthy behavior to model for the children, it seemed very counterintuitive when we are trying to get our children outside to be active and healthy.”

Stratton, who is a former health teacher, said he started researching laws and regulations for smoking at athletic fields and that is how he got involved with Cuthbertson.

“I discovered [there] was already a ban at Huntington beaches and playgrounds and I saw that this was spearheaded by Councilman Cuthbertson. So I contacted him to find out if there was already a law that encompassed [athletic fields] and if not, how I could pursue a resolution to this situation,” Stratton said.

“This new regulation extends my no-smoking legislation to include playgrounds, beaches and athletic fields,” Cuthbertson confirmed.