Jumping in gelatin to fight leukemia

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About 250 people of all ages slid into 1,500 gallons of gelatin Friday for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's 22nd Annual Gelatin Slide at the Hilton in Melville.

Nicolle Leitke, sliding for her fourth time, raised almost $2,500 through donations and pledges in memory of her friend Amanda Grosso, who died last year of leukemia at the age of 10.

"My personal goal is to help find a cure and for me to know I'm doing a good thing for my friend Amanda," said Nicolle, 12.

Nicolle and her mother, Jennifer, held a lemonade stand on June 7 in front of their house, which raised $1,030. Instead of selling the lemonade, they gave it away for free and accepted donations, many from members of the North Lindenhurst Fire Department.

Amanda's death in February 2007 "devastated the whole community," said Leitke, 41.

Nicolle, an honor student at William Rall Middle School in Lindenhurst, said she donates her money and time to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society because she "doesn't want any other family to go through what Amanda's family went through."

Nicolle's brother, Mikey, 6, also participated in the gelatin slide for the second year.

After sliding into the pool, Nicolle said she felt "cold, sticky, wet, gross and proud."

For the first time, Rafaello Carone, 7, of Dix Hills, had a strong enough immune system to participate in the gelatin slide. Rafaello, in remission from high-risk leukemia since September, has helped raise more than $1 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. "It was really fun and very icky and slimy and it was so cool," he said of the gelatin slide. Rafaello hopes to raise money for his friends still in the hospital with cancer.

The Melville Fire Department was there to hose down the slides, add water to the gelatin and douse participants with water once they came out of the pool of red, sticky gelatin.

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More than 30 volunteers attended the event, including Elizabeth Harman of Amityville, a survivor of Hogdkin's disease. Harman, 39, has been cancer free for more than 10 years and said the gelatin slide is all about "awareness and providing more money to get us closer to our cure."

"It's a very fun and extremely unique event and brings a lot of people together, which helps raise much needed awareness for blood cancers," said Tara Spohrer of Westbury, a coordinator for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Spohrer believes the gelatin slide is meaningful for patients and survivors.

"It was a lot of fun," said Diana Harvey and Joe Straub, students at the J. Taylor Finley Middle School in Huntington.

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