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Unisphere lit purple for Relay for Life

The symbol of Queens took on a different hue last week to raise awareness for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

The Unisphere, a remnant of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, was bathed in purple light every night to commemorate this year’s ACS’s annual event, which raises money for cancer research and inspires hope in those affected by it.

Organized by the Howard Beach Relay, the official lighting was a gathering of cancer survivors, patients and those who love them who shared each other’s company May 5 on the steps of the famous site, telling stories of their struggles and triumphs with the disease.

Donald Distasio, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society’s Eastern Division, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007. After undergoing minimally invasive robotic surgery, he is now a survivor and one of many stories of hope the society he loves has helped create.

“Relay For Life is for survivors, remembering those we’ve lost and trying to do something. It’s about raising awareness and getting people to come to us if they have cancer,” he said. “It’s a movement, it’s not just a week-long event. These people work year round to raise money to fund research, help cancer patients when they’re diagnosed and just constantly offer help.”

During the relay, which started in 1985, teams of participants camp out and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Each team must have a member on the track at all times until the event ends, which can be as long as 24 hours later.

Kew Gardens resident Lynn Silverstein first found out about the event after she overcame non-Hodgkins lymphoma, for which there is no cure but treatment is possible. She is now a member of the Silver Mariposas team in the Cunningham Park relay and has worked in an official capacity in the past to promote the cause.

“I’m a Queens native, so I wanted to see the Unisphere lit up in purple,” she said. “I also wanted to spread the word about Relay because it raises a lot of money for the American Cancer Society and raises awareness. They do research and come up with treatments and cures and a lot of people don’t know about them.”

Deputy Queens Borough President Barry Grodenchik has several relatives who have battled cancer, and he offered a few words about the importance of the evening.

“We’re all cancer survivors here tonight,” he said. “All those people on those planes as they fly out and fly in are going to see purple here and think of cancer, and maybe one or two of them will get tested for cancer and maybe it will save someone’s life.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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