On March 28, 2015, Greenport resident Holly Lanzetta received the news every parent fears: Her young son, Sam Duffy, had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Today, Sam, now 5, faces another two and a half years of treatment — longer if he relapses, Ms. Lanzetta said. To support her son and the thousands of other children afflicted by the disease, Ms. Lanzetta has coordinated a fundraising event through the national St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for childhood cancers. During the event, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 26, at First and South restaurant in Greenport, participants will shave their heads in solidarity with children like Sam, who often lose their hair during chemotherapy treatments.
However, said Ms. Lanzetta, “It’s not so much for Sam; it’s more for his friends. We felt we needed to do something that could possibly make a difference in a small way.”
According to information provided by St. Baldrick’s, a child is diagnosed with cancer every three minutes worldwide and approximately 1 in 285 American children will be diagnosed with cancer before they turn 20. A 2014 study by The National Cancer Institute predicted that 15,780 children under the age of 19 would be diagnosed with cancer that year, and that 1,960 would die of the disease in the United States alone.
As of earlier this week, at least seven people had registered to have their heads shaved at the March 26 event, including Ms. Lanzetta and her 15-year-old son, Troy.
“It took me a while to decide if I was going to shave my head,” Troy said. “But then I realized I could grow it back in a couple of months and some other people couldn’t, so that was really the deciding factor for me.”
Troy added that his younger brother’s diagnosis “opened his eyes” and made him want to help Sam and the countless other children fighting similar battles. Ms. Lanzetta said she made the decision to shave her head so that she could serve as a representative for children who lose their hair during chemotherapy treatments.
“I see second-grade girls at the cancer center and the horror that they feel at the idea of losing their hair,” she said. “There needs to be more representatives out there that show you can be beautiful when you’re bald.”
In addition to shaving their heads, Ms. Lanzetta said she feels it’s important to donate money to help fund childhood cancer research. She said only a few childhood cancer drugs have been created since the 1950s and that all of them can potentially cause heart, cognitive and reproductive problems. To help conduct research toward the creation of new drugs, some of Sam’s blood is donated at doctor’s visits. Ms. Lanzetta said she hopes this effort, coupled with the St. Baldrick’s event, will make a difference.
Ms. Lanzetta’s friend Blake Dowling, co-owner of One Love Beach in Greenport, also believes funding childhood cancer research is crucial to finding a cure. She has stepped up as treasurer of next Saturday’s event and is helping Ms. Lanzetta plan it. Ms. Dowling’s husband, Chris, has also signed up to have his head shaved.
“The amount of money that goes to cancer research and all the funding and all the benefits that happen that go to cancer -— only four percent go to childhood cancer,” Ms. Dowling said. “So St. Baldrick’s is this amazing foundation where all the money goes to bettering children’s medication and treatment. That’s one of the things that’s so harsh — that the medications and treatments these kids get are very adult-like … You can see it wreaking havoc not only on their bodies, but their little brains. They are researching to find friendlier treatments.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Greenport St. Baldrick’s event had raised more than $6,000. Ms. Lanzetta’s 10-member team, Sam’s Heroes, has raised over $3,500 alone.
The team’s name stems from Sam’s love of superheroes, Ms. Lanzetta said. Last Thursday, he went shopping dressed as Spider-Man — costume, face paint and all — after his chemotherapy treatment.
Sam has even given his mother her own superhero name: Golden Fury, a reference to the fact that the color gold represents childhood cancer.
At Ms. Lanzetta’s suggestion, Sam’s Heroes member Jack Martilotta decided to shave his head last Friday in hopes of raising awareness about the event.
“I had experience with it in my family and Sam and Holly are good friends of ours,” Mr. Martilotta said. “Anything we can do to help is a worthwhile endeavor.”
“If people are stuck deciding whether to shave their head or not, theirs can grow back in a couple months,” Troy added. “But for some kids with cancer, it’s gone for years. Everybody who does is helping out.”
To donate to the March 26 event or sign up to have your head shaved, visit Sam’s St. Baldrick’s website and check out its Facebook page for additional information. Donations can also be made in person by cash or check at One Love Beach, located at 211 Main St. in Greenport.
Photo: A St. Baldrick’s event will be held at First and South in Greenport to support village resident Sam Duffy, 5, who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. (Credit: Nicole Smith)