By Randy Vogt, Director of Public Relations, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
October 29, 2018-The Staten Island Youth Soccer League (SIYSL), the southernmost league in the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA), is hosting the 2nd Annual Gold Ribbon Games, a series of games under the lights at the Owl Hollow Soccer Complex on Friday night, November 2. The goal is to raise money for Candlelighters NYC, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families through the difficult times when their child is diagnosed with and being treated for cancer. They assist through all stages, including discovery, diagnosis, treatment and remission.
The inspiration for the evening is Maggie Russo, a spirited 10-year-old from Our Lady of Good Council Soccer Club, who has been undergoing treatment for cancer. Maggie was diagnosed with cancer when she was about to turn two years old and it started in her eye and has spread to her bone marrow and later her bladder wall. Maggie's mom, Mary Beth Russo, is the Assistant Director for the club. A bio of Maggie is below.
Eight SIYSL teams from the Girls-Under-13 age group will be playing, including Maggie, who will also kick out the first ball. Gold is the color of pediatric cancer awareness so the squads will be wearing gold laces and Maggie’s team will be wearing gold socks as well.
The night begins at 6:30 pm with the check-in for the games and players can sign up for the Skills Contest at this time. The Skills Contest goes from 7:15 to 8:00 pm and is run by We Can Kick It. Maggie will kick out the first ball at 8:00 pm and the games begin. A special fundraiser this year is to score a goal on your favorite SIYSL Executive Board member as they will be taking their turns as goalkeepers.
For more info about the 2nd Annual Gold Ribbon Games, please contact Liz Morrano at 718-290-4405.
Meghan Elizabeth Russo (Maggie) came into the world on January 10, 2008, a happy and healthy baby girl born to proud parents Mike and Mary Beth, a NYC firefighter and a former NYC teacher. She has an older brother, Michael, a younger sister, Mary Kate, and a younger brother, Matthew. Maggie is currently a fifth grade student at Our Lady of Good Counsel. She plays soccer, runs track and is a cheerleader and Girl Scout. Maggie loves to play with her dog, Monty, ride her bike, draw and spend time with her friends. She is brave, silly, thoughtful, creative and independent.
In late October 2009, when she was only 21 months old, Maggie's parents noticed that her left eye was reflecting strangely in the light. During a trip to the pediatrician's office, Mike and Mary Beth asked the doctor to examine her eye. Moments later, her doctor was setting up an emergency trip to the ophthalmologist's office. Later that evening, Maggie was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer.
Six days later, Maggie and her parents went to see Dr. David Abramson at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. After an examination under anesthesia, Dr. Abramson confirmed that she had retinoblastoma. He said that the tumor was covering over 60% of her eye, that the retina was severed and she had no vision, and that her safest option was an enucleation (removal of the eye). Dr. Abramson did offer an alternative treatment called chemo-reduction, but he felt that it was not in Maggie's best interest. With the knowledge that Maggie would never regain sight in her left eye, and the fear that the cancer could spread toward her other eye, her nervous system or her brain, Maggie's parents agreed to the surgery.
On Monday, November 9, 2009, Maggie had her left eye removed. She was home that night. By the next morning, if it weren't for the tell-tale bandage, you would not know that she was sick.
December marked the beginning of her visits to the occularist, who began to fit her for a prosthetic eye. She also continued to make regular trips to Dr. Abramson to make sure the cancer had not returned.
While on vacation in the Poconos for President's Week in 2010, Maggie began to look like she was getting a black eye. Her prostheses did not fit right, nor did it stay in very well. When the family returned to New York, they went to visit the occularist. A new prostheses was given, as well as the assurance that all was well. However as the week progressed, Maggie's upper and lower eye lid continued to swell. By the following weekend, the prostheses would no longer stay in.
On Tuesday March 2, 2010, Maggie returned to Dr. Abramson, where her family was told the cancer had returned. The next two weeks were filled with trips to Memorial Sloan-Kettering, where her team of doctors tried to figure out if the cancer had spread outside her eye socket. Finally, tests confirmed that the cancer had also spread to her bone marrow.
What started out as a simple chemotherapy protocol (4 rounds as an out-patient, 1 high-dose round followed by a bone marrow transplant as an in-patient) soon veered off course. Weakened by the chemo, Maggie endured months of the adeno virus, para-flu, fungal infections and the c-diff virus. For a few months, she could not keep down solid food, she was unable walk, and she was hospitalized several times. She ended up receiving 9 rounds of chemotherapy and a dose of radiation, before finally undergoing the high-dose chemo and her autonomous bone marrow transplant on November 4, 2010. She was home in time to celebrate Christmas with her family.
In November 2015, Maggie celebrated her 5th "Transplant Birthday." Unfortunately, the celebration was bitter-sweet. Her doctors discovered a malignant mass on her bladder wall. After biopsy, her doctors realized she had a new cancer, Aveolar Soft-Parts Sarcoma. There is no treatment and there is no cure. Maggie's surgeon, Dr. Todd Heaton, went back in, removed the mass and a portion of her bladder wall. Further scans also revealed several small spots in her lungs, but due to their location they are too small to biopsy. This sarcoma is a slow moving disease, which means it is highly resistant to any treatment. Her only course of action is constant monitoring, so she goes to MSKCC every 6 months for scans, scopes, blood work, CT scans, cystoscopies and MRIs to monitor for any changes or new growths. Last spring, during her routine scans, doctors noticed a new growth on her pelvic bones, which showed some growth in scans over the summer. Maggie is headed back to MSK in November to check for new growth.
Please keep our beautiful Princess in your prayers, and please help us pray, hope and fight for a cure. You can follow Maggie’s journey on https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/meghanrusso