Cancer survivors, caregivers, family, friends, prominent community figures, and even pets gathered in Juniper Valley Park on Saturday to stand up against cancer.
For the 19th year, the American Cancer Society hosted the Relay For Life of Middle Village, which honored locals who have been affected by cancer, as well as those who have donated to support the cause.
Collectively, the Middle Village Relay For Life raised well over $78,000 for cancer research, patient care programs, and other valuable resources.
The list of sponsors includes local businesses and organizations such as Maspeth Federal Savings, Kiwanis Club of Glendale, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, Move to the Melodie, Main Street Radiology, Cord Meyer Development Company, Ridgewood Moose Lodge 1642, and O’Neill’s Maspeth.
Maspeth resident Leslie Orlovsky of the American Cancer Society, who led the event, said that the overall goal of the Relay For Life is to support groundbreaking cancer research, to ultimately find a cure.
“I know a lot of survivors, and people who are close to me that have lost their battle to cancer,” Orlovsky said. “And I’m so thankful for the science and the recent breakthrough cancer research we have seen. I hope we are close to a cure.”
New York City Councilman Robert Holden was in attendance, and reminisced about the event’s past successes and celebrated the promising future for cancer research.
“I thank everyone who’s here and is keeping the faith. There have been great strides this year in the fight against cancer, with some major breakthroughs,” he said.
Since the event was held at the Multi-purpose Play Area/Field 8 of the park, it was much smaller than years past, but Holden said that he can “almost guarantee” that it will be back at the Juniper Valley Park track and field next year.
Melissa Alke-Sparnroft kicked off the event by sharing her cancer story with the crowd, which was followed by a series of walks and team laps around the track. There was also a relay, fun and games, a Zumba dance class taught by Melodie Mattes, and the Luminaria Ceremony in the evening.
Alke-Sparnroft, a resident of Ridgewood and a mother-to-be, is living proof that cancer does not discriminate.
Her journey began in 2018 when she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, and began going for yearly blood work and ultrasounds.
In 2020, she was due for her annual appointment, which got canceled due to the first COVID-19 panic.
In June of that year, Alke-Sparnroft found out she was pregnant with her first son, Jackson, but she had a stillbirth in October.
Right around Christmastime, she got the call from her doctor that she had papillary thyroid cancer.
“That just goes to show that cancer doesn’t care,” she said. “I ended up having surgery in February 2021 to get my thyroid and a few lymph nodes removed… I went into isolation for a week.”
Although it was one of the most difficult times in her life, Alke-Sparnroft is pleased to say that the medical procedures worked, and she and her husband will soon welcome a child into the world.
“I’m really thankful for science because without it, the researchers and the doctors would not have been able to basically find a way to cure this type of thyroid cancer,” she said. “You also really have to be your own advocate and use your voice. Go to your recommended cancer screenings. You have to take control and go to it.”
“When you’re in those really difficult times, you have to do what you can to keep moving forward,” she continued. “My personal motto is ‘Day by day, sometimes hour by hour, and sometimes it’s even minute by minute.’ You have to do what you can, holding onto some sort of hope for the future and moving forward.”