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Sep 12, 2017 3:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Eastport Graduate Refuses To Allow Rare Cancer Limit Her Accomplishments

Rachel Ragone, left, and her mother Kim. COURTESY KIM RAGONE.
Sep 14, 2017 2:01 PM

Padding around her house with wet hair and in sweatpants, her wriggly puppy Enzo in her arms, Rachel Ragone is a typical 21-year-old woman.

But beneath this casual veneer is a store of impressive strength and drive seen in her academic achievement at Fordham University, her acceptance into a highly competitive J.P. Morgan internship program, and her years-long fight against Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that attacks the bone or soft tissue.

Ms. Ragone was first diagnosed with the disease when she was a 16-year-old junior attending Eastport South Manor High School. The disease seemed to have been beaten back into remission until halfway through her junior year at Fordham, where she is majoring in applied accounting and finance. Routine follow-up testing revealed that the cancer had returned and spread to her lungs.

There are only about 200 cases of Ewing’s sarcoma reported in America annually, with most affecting those between the ages of 10 and 20, according to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee. Treatment options typically include chemotherapy, followed by surgery or radiation.

As shown in Ms. Ragone’s case, even those who are considered “cured” must be vigilant in their follow-up appointments, as the cancer has the ability to return and spread to different parts of the body. The cure rate for Ewing’s sarcoma is fairly high, though doctors note that younger patients have had more success in beating the disease.

As a result of her relapse, Ms. Ragone has been forced to ease back on her workload and now takes a few classes online. She had to push back her internship until she is well.

“I guess you can get sad or angry, but that’s just a waste of time,” the Manorville resident said in a recent interview. “It doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Her routine since February has been two weeks of treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, followed by a week off. She has three cycles left, followed by 10 days of radiation, at which point she will be done with her treatment.

Dr. Paul Meyers, Ms. Ragone’s doctor at Sloan Kettering, did not return calls seeking comment.

In spite of her daughter’s relapse, Kim Ragone keeps up her unfailingly positive outlook and gratitude. She explained that their close family, which includes her husband, John, and 27-year-old son, Andrew, are a huge help, and that their entire family has the support of the community.

“There is a lot of stress, between missing days at work or trying to always be there for Rachel,” Ms. Ragone said. “When I go to work, I have this one boss who, every time I see him, goes, “How’s Rachel? What can we do for Rachel?” And that just makes my heart warm that I know that people care. It touches us. It’s everyone—but especially him.”

Along with being emotionally supported, some compassionate New Yorkers are seeking to ensure that the Ragones are financially supported as well.

When Rachel Ragone’s grandmother Gloria was working as a phlebotomist for a blood drive run by the Michael Magro Foundation—a nonprofit founded by Paul and Terrie Magro of Hicksville and named after their son, who died of leukemia at age 13—she got caught up in conversation with Ms. Magro. Stating that she was touched by Rachel Ragone’s story and continued struggle, Ms. Magro pledged the foundation’s help, committing to pay for her books at Fordham.

That was a relief for the Ragones, as they are shouldering medical costs not covered by insurance, as well as transportation to and from the city and lodging once there.

Ms. Magro was so affected by hearing Ms. Ragone’s story that she stayed involved upon learning about her relapse. She connected with Bradley Siegel, one of the founders of Life’s Angels, a nonprofit made up of poker players from Nassau County who find charitable uses for the proceeds from their competitions, who pledged to help cover her medical costs.

“Rachel has a long road ahead of her—cancer is a difficult opponent,” reads the Michael Magro Foundation’s statement. “Rachel’s spirit, however, seems indomitable.”

And Ms. Ragone’s unflappable spirit has much to do with those who continue to offer their assistance as she works on healing. Her immediate goal, she noted, is to get better so she can resume taking classes at Fordham in the spring.

“I just want to go back to school,” she said, hugging her energetic puppy.

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