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Friend steps up to help LI family struck by two illnesses

A Port Washington man is racing to raise money for the medical bills of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer and her son, who needs brain surgery.

A Port Washington resident is hosting 21 races for a mother who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer right after discovering that her son will need brain surgery, with one race held on Saturday in North Hempstead Beach Park.  (Credit: Todd Maisel)

A Port Washington woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer and whose son needs brain surgery has found strength and a helping hand in a friend and cancer survivor who is racing to raise money for their medical bills.

Antoinette “Toni” Contino said her oldest child, Sam, was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, a condition in which his brain tissue was extending into his spinal canal, on Jan. 9. Days later, she was told she had breast cancer.

Until the diagnoses, Toni, 49, said she loved to kickbox and jog regularly. “I was pretty much a gym rat. I loved it,” she said.

Her family of six, including four children, is filled with athletes, she said. Her husband, Robert Contino, 55, plays hockey for local club leagues. Sam, 19, plays attack on his lacrosse team at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts. Her youngest child, Petra Contino, 12, plays basketball for St. Peter of Alcantara School in Port Washington.

Sam, who risks permanent paralysis if he plays sports again unless he has brain surgery, is scheduled for the procedure in the spring.

“I’m just looking forward to getting back to normal,” said Sam, who has been catching up on his criminal justice studies in the meantime. “Competing and being out there, I miss that right now.”

Toni is scheduled for a double mastectomy Wednesday.

The week she and her son learned of their conditions was challenging for the entire family, Toni said, but she focused on keeping upbeat while making medical and other arrangements. After that was done, she said, the fear of how her family would afford the treatments and the weight of their situation set in.

“It was a very surreal moment and it was really, really tough dealing with what was going on,” Contino said.

Then a friend stepped up to help. 

Matthew Duffy, 47, a family friend and Petra's basketball coach, is raising money through “Tough Like Toni”, a GoFundMe fundraiser set up to help pay the family's medical expenses. On Saturday, Duffy ran at the Port Washington Winter Run at the Town of North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington. Saturday was the first of 21 races Duffy will run to raise money for the Continos.

To date, the fundraiser has generated nearly $25,000 of its $150,000 goal, according to the GoFundMe page.

Duffy, a Port Washington resident, was 25 when he was diagnosed with early stage 2-A Hodgkin lymphoma — a type of blood cancer — and he said he knew the difficulties Toni and her family would face. 

“I remember how I felt when I was at this part of my journey and where she is now,” said Duffy, who talks with Contino frequently on the phone. “Hopefully, Saturday will be a special and happy day for her as she moves forward and takes care of this breast cancer situation. I know how she feels.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Contino said she was grateful for Duffy’s efforts and the support the community had shown her family.

“It’s brought us a lot closer as a family,” she said. “Everyone is still in a little bit of a daze, but we’ve learned a lot. There’s so many people that love us. Look at what Matt is doing. What this community is doing is just blowing my mind.”

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