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Girl's legacy lives on

At the tender age of 13, Melina Riniolo had already decided that she was going to make a difference in the lives of so many children.

When Melina was only 8 years old, doctors found a tumor in the left adrenal gland of her brain. She was soon diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer most commonly found in children less than a year old.

Although she was suffering from her illness, Melina founded Melina's White Light, a charity dedicated to raising funds to find a cure for neuroblastoma.

Melina wanted to give future children a better chance of beating childhood cancer, even though she knew she would not survive. Melina was 13 when she passed away June 3, 2010.

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that begins in the brain and can spread to other parts of the body. The chances of surviving neuroblastoma are less that 30 percent if the patient is more than 2 years old. Every 16 hours, a child succumbs to this disease.

"Many, many of the hours we spent in pediatric cancer clinics, Melina would watch all the little ones attached to the same machines she was, struggling from the same side effects she had, and crying from the same treatments she had done," said Melina's mother, Lisa. "It would break her heart."

Melina did not want to see another child suffer, and so she and those close to her wanted to raise awareness of the lack of funding for fighting childhood cancer as well as for treatments for neuroblastoma. And so, Melina's White Light was born.

The first official fundraiser for Melina's White Light was the 2009 Christmas card fundraiser.

"During Christmas we sell Christmas cards that were drawn by Melina and her siblings," said Melina's best friend, Isabella Kaplan, 15, of Clarence.

The Christmas card fundraiser collected $11,000 in 2009 and more than $10,000 in 2010 for neuroblastoma research.

In March 2009, Melina's White Light hosted its first "Cure Me I'm Irish -- Buffalo" event. The idea came from another family in Boston affected by neuroblastoma. Melina was able to attend this event, which raised $35,000 toward finding a cure.

The "Cure Me I'm Irish" event will be held again this year from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, North Campus, Amherst. There will be live music, a silent auction, a basket raffle and huge prizes. All proceeds benefit the Neuroblastoma Alliance, an organization dedicated to saving kids with neuroblastoma.

Anyone is welcome to show their support for Melina's White Light by attending events, donating time or spreading the word. Log on to or for additional information about these events or finding a cure for neuroblastoma.

"Melina had a very strong character," says Isabella.

"Melina touched many lives in her short time on earth and that is evident in all the support we have received from everyone," Melina's mother said. "This is just the beginning of Melina's White Light."

Erin Sydney Welsh is a freshman at Clarence High School.

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