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For young cancer survivors, Light the Night walk is a time to connect

Olivia Macchio, 11, and Seraphina O'Brien, 12, were

Olivia Macchio, 11, and Seraphina O'Brien, 12, were among about 6,000 people who walked Saturday evening in the 21st annual Light the Night event at Eisenhower Memorial Park. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

For two Long Island girls who grew up miles apart, one common thing brought them and their families together: their fight against cancer.

Olivia Macchio and Seraphina O’Brien, who were each diagnosed with blood cancer almost a year apart, met one night in 2015 when they were the only ones attending a movie night at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park after each had an exhausting day of chemotherapy treatment, Olivia said.

While the girls don't remember all details of that night due to their fatigue at the time, an almost instant friendship strengthened them on their road to recovery.

“It’s really nice to have a friend who can relate to stuff,” said Olivia, 11, of Garden City. “When we both had treatments, we both lost all our hair, and (meeting each other) made it a little easier for us to go through it. It makes it really relatable to have a friend who is going through the same thing as you.”

Olivia and Seraphina were among about 6,000 people who walked Saturday evening in the 21st annual Light the Night event at Eisenhower Park, organized by the Melville-based Long Island chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. 

Light The Night is the society's annual walk to raise awareness of blood cancers, as well as funding for cancer research and patient support. 

In 2017, both girls were on the same fundraising team, “Lights for Liv,” raising $18,199 and becoming the top-ranked “Friends and Family” fundraising team.

Olivia was diagnosed in 2015 with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma  that attacks the lymphatic system. Seraphina was diagnosed in October 2014 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer in which the bone marrow produces too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Both girls are in remission, according to their parents.

Through the years, Olivia said the girls’ friendship has blossomed, as they have hung out at each other’s houses, gotten their nails done, played at parks, baked brownies and spent summers swimming and playing together at Sunrise Day Camp–Long Island in Wyandanch.

Before the walk, Seraphina, 12, of Port Washington, who was walking at the event for the second time, said she especially looked forward to hanging out with Olivia.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing Olivia, because we don’t see each other that often lately,” Seraphina said. “But now we’ll get to see each other at the walk, and that’s always really fun.”

Olivia’s mother Diana Macchio, 39, of Garden City, and Seraphina's mother Felicity O’Brien, 48, of Port Washington, over time forged a friendship of their own, eating lunch together, getting together with each other’s families and, O’Brien said, finding ways to “celebrate life” and their daughters’ progress toward recovery.

“It’s one of those relationships where even when we don’t see each other all the time, we always pick up exactly where we left off,” O’Brien said.

Saturday’s walk, Macchio said, was where both families “really connect, by paying it forward and raising money (for cancer). It helps me process what our families have gone through, and it helps Olivia realize that she’s not alone.”

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