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Hauppauge boy, 7, who fought cancer gets a drive-by shoutout to mark final round of chemo

Hundreds of people helped Ryan Starace celebrate his

Hundreds of people helped Ryan Starace celebrate his final round of chemotherapy treatment by driving by his family's Hauppauge home, honking their horns and waving signs. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Seven-year-old Ryan Starace can’t wait to go back to the beach, waterparks and his friends’ pools.

Not because he’s been under quarantine for weeks, but because he’s been on a three-year cancer treatment journey that took him away from the usual fun activities that children enjoy.

On Saturday, hundreds of people helped him celebrate his final round of chemotherapy treatment by driving by his family's Hauppauge home, honking their horns and waving signs that read “Hope,” “Nobody Fights Alone” and “Team Ryan.”

More than 100 cars, fire trucks, police cars and mail trucks drove by for the celebration that took the entire Starace family by surprise, including mom, Nicole; dad, James; and brother, Luke, 9.

"It was amazing, incredible and overwhelming with joy," Nicole Starace said. "It's been a very long journey. When it started, I could never imagine being here on this day. It's a day that we've looked forward to for so long."

Ryan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of blood cancer, when he was 4 years old. The diagnosis, Starace said, "turned our lives upside down."

"As a parent, my job is to protect him," she said. "And when that happened, it was the most helpless feeling I ever had because it was something I couldn't help him with."

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Ryan was treated at Stony Brook University Hospital. Over the years, his mom says, he's learned more about his disease and treatment.

"He’s had to mature a lot in these years, more than any child should," Starace said. "He’s excited that he doesn’t have to take medicine anymore and can’t wait to get his port out so he can just play and be free."

The Melville-based Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which organized the driveby, supported the Starace family with informative resources, support groups and community activities. 

"This family has been really inspiring to other people in the community," said Sara Lipsky, executive director of the society. "They're the reason this organization isn't just an organization and it's a family."

Though children with cancer normally undergo chemotherapy treatment at home, they will usually visit the hospital for their final round to ring a bell, on the momentous occasion, Lipsky said. Because of the pandemic and precautionary measures for those with weakened immune systems, Ryan wouldn't get to visit the hospital. Instead, he got to honk the horn of a fire truck during the parade, Lipsky said.

Starace said she felt grateful for the "family" she has at the society and for her sister, Tara, who helped Ryan throughout his journey.

"It really takes a village," Starace said. "Our village has come together from all walks of life to help us and we really could not do any of this without all of them."

To learn more about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, visit LLS.org.

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