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Families Helping One Another

Locust Valley man ran up Empire State Building to honor cousin 

One local family is finding ways to raise money and awareness for other family members facing health issues by pushing themselves to the extreme. Chris Maselli of Locust Valley participated in the Empire State Building Run-Up Feb. 6 to honor his cousin-in-law, Tony Lanza, who is battling leukemia. The inspiration for the race comes, in part, as thank you for Lanza’s attempt to raise money on behalf of Maselli’s son, who is autistic.

“When Tony said he was going to raise money for our son, we were really touched,” says Maselli. “We’ve spent the year hoping and praying for his recovery, and we do crazy things to encourage him and boost his spirits, like running to the top of the Empire State Building in his honor.”

Maselli says that last June, Lanza was training for the New York triathlon to raise funds for Autism Speaks in honor of his son who has high functioning autism when he first suspected a health problem.

“He was feeling tired and just not himself. His sister convinced him to go to the doctor and get checked,” says Maselli. “To everyone’s surprise, at 27 years old he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloma Leukemia (AML).”

The Empire State Building Run-Up is an event that raises funds for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, a cancer research foundation that has helped to double survival for patients since its inception in 1998. Participants race up 1,576 steps to the top of the iconic landmark.

Maselli and his wife, Jennifer, are both marathon runners, and it was Jennifer who convinced Maselli to enter the lottery with her this year because of Lanza’s diagnosis. She ran the race last year with her father, but didn’t get in this year. Maselli, who has competed in triathlons as well as marathons, finished the race in 17 minutes, 14 seconds, his first tower run.

“The Run-Up is different because the air gets thin very quickly and your lungs feel like they are on fire,” says Maselli. “Breathing was the toughest part of that race.”

To date, Lanza has undergone many rounds of chemotherapy and received a stem cell transplant on Halloween. 

“We could not find a bone marrow match in or out of the family,” says Maselli. “There are so few people on the registry and we would really like to encourage everyone to think about becoming a donor. It is much simpler than it has been in the past and is much like giving a blood donation.”

The Masellis are not the only family members involved in Lanza’s cause. Lanza’s sister, Lauren Lanza, held a bone marrow drive and she and her husband plan to compete in the St. Anthony’s triathlon in Florida on April 28. Maselli says this is a special race because the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program designated Tony as their honored teammate. She has raised a little more than $3,000 and receives donations through http://pages.teamintraining.org/wch/anttry13/laurenmason.

The Masellis have also started a photo campaign for Lanza, collecting photographs from all over the world to cheer him on his fight against cancer.

“It’s become a statement for him that he will get better and snowboard and live life to the fullest once again.”