FOLLOWING AN EARTH-SHAKING DIAGNOSIS, THIS LIFELONG STATEN ISLANDER COURAGEOUSLY TOOK ON CANCER AND WON. NOW, HE’S USING HIS STORY TO LIFT UP HIS COMMUNITY, RAISING FUNDS AND AWARENESS FOR THE BOROUGH’S WORLD-CLASS CANCER CARE, AND TOUCHING THOUSANDS OF LIVES IN THE PROCESS
BY AMANDA MCCOY • PHOTOS BY ALEX BARRETO
When summer swept over Staten Island in 2022, Alex Carr was preparing for a packed season. A longstanding employee of the Staten Island Zoo, the active thirtysomething had recently joined the Board of Directors of the Pride Center of Staten Island, and he had his hands in several philanthropic endeavors to support both organizations and the borough he’s called home his entire life. He had recently married his long-term partner, prominent radio personality Z100 Morning Show host Elvis Duran, and felt energetic, strong, and in good physical shape. Then August arrived, and Carr noticed an abnormality in his body. A few weeks later, a medical exam and ultrasound would turn his entire world on its head: Carr was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
“It really hit home,” said Carr, adding his relationship with cancer is deeply personal as the disease has taken the lives of several friends and family members, including his father when Carr was a teenager. “It made me rethink my life.”
Shaken but steadfast, Carr was determined not to let cancer control him. He underwent surgery at Staten Island University Hospital to remove and replace the cancerous testicle with an implant. While the operation was a success, a post-op CT scan showed the cancer had spread to a lymph node next to his left kidney. He then embarked on a rigorous chemotherapy course, all while maintaining a “warrior” mentality and engaging in his normal day-to-day activities to the best of his ability – going into work at the zoo, and even climbing a ladder to clean out the gutters of his house.
“When I was first diagnosed, everyone said I should travel into Manhattan to get a second opinion,” noted Carr. “So I did, and the doctors gave me the exact same diagnosis as the doctors at SIUH’s Florina Cancer Center. I decided to stay in my own backyard and undergo treatment here in Staten Island. Each and every doctor and nurse I encountered was incredible.”
The support came pouring in. Carr said he received an abundance of touching messages through social media from members of the Staten Island community and beyond. He launched a crowdfunding page to raise money for the Florina Cancer Center, and his colleagues at the zoo began selling T-shirts and cupcakes to support the cause (the page amassed $51,000 in donations).
First and second graders from a local school even sent him hand-drawn illustrations of Carr surrounded by animals. “It melted my heart,” he said of the drawings. After four months of chemo, tests revealed Carr was officially cancer free, though he explained his journey was far from over. It was Carr’s turn to fight for the community who gave him strength during one of the most turbulent periods of his life. Staten Island has the highest rate of cancer of all five New York City boroughs, and in response SIUH invested $45 million into the Florina Cancer Center, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art facility that brings the full range of oncologic services under one roof. Even while undergoing chemotherapy – which involved spending six hours a day, five days per week in an infusion chair – Carr got involved in several initiatives to raise funds and awareness for the center that helped him overcome the disease.
Carr and Duran teamed up with their good friend, chef and prolific local restaurateur Peter Botros, to host the third annual Meatballs & Mixology competition at one of Botros’ restaurants, Violette’s Cellar, in February. Duran closed out the event with a surprise donation of $250,000 on behalf of the couple to the Florina Cancer Center. “It’s such a great event,” noted Carr. “Seventy people submitted their homemade meatball recipes, and we picked the best 12 to showcase their meatballs the night of the event. We had a packed house; more than 200 people showed up to try the different meatballs and vote for their favorite.
Those that didn’t make the top 12 said they are coming back next year with a vengeance [laughs].” “There’s so much more to this event than raising money alone,” added Duran. “The level of awareness we are bringing to the Florina Cancer Center is so important. We want Staten Islanders to know they don’t have to drive across the Verrazzano to receive cancer treatment, that there is world-class care right here. Alex was so impressed by the doctors on Staten Island. For members of the community, the ability to undergo treatment only 15 minutes from your home is invaluable.”
Carr was also this year’s Walk Story at the Northwell Health Walk, an annual celebration of the network’s fundrais-ing accomplishments. It was held on May 21 at the Midland Beach Boardwalk. “Alex has a long track record of investing in his community,” noted Duran. “He’s always been committed to being of service. This mindset was instilled by his grandparents, who were active philanthropists. His grandmother was a successful business owner on Staten Island for more than 50 years, and she always believed in the importance of giving back to her community.” “We have such a great community here on Staten Island,”
continued Carr. “After a tragic event like Superstorm Sandy, it was inspiring to see how the people of Staten Island came together. At the end of the day, it’s all about helping your neighbor, lifting each other up, and being there when someone is in need.” Looking back on his journey, Carr explained there was never a single moment he didn’t feel cocooned in love and support: by his husband, his mother, close friends, doctors and nurses, and Staten Island neigh-bors. Having fully regained his strength, he said he will continue to pour his energy into raising funds and awareness for cancer care in the borough, and be a beacon of hope and support for anyone during their fight with the disease. “To anyone going through a battle with cancer, no matter where you are in your journey, remember you are a warrior,” he said.