Coasters for Cancer campaign celebrates survivorship, raises cancer awareness


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Cancer does not discriminate. That is what Johnny Volpe, a 17-year-old cancer survivor, of Monroe, said he wanted people to take away from the display on the cars of the popular Runaway Mine Train roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure.

“Cancer goes for anyone … it’s great that people [will be] aware [with the display],” he said.

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Six Flags Great Adventure, RWJBarnabas Health and the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey recently joined forces to fight cancer and celebrate survivorship in a unique way with the unveiling of Coasters for Cancer – the first roller coaster wrapped in the hand prints of cancer survivors and supporters.

The colorful handprints were collected at RWJBarnabas Health facilities throughout the state and transferred onto the roller coaster, according to John F. Bonamo, executive vice president, chief medical and quality officer at RWJBarnabas Health.

The roller coaster will remain wrapped in the decorated hand prints through the close of the park in winter 2019.

Johnny was one of the guest speakers and was one of 200 cancer survivors and supporters who climbed aboard the decorated roller coaster for the inaugural ride on June 9. He rode alongside his father, Vincent.

He shared with the crowd he was diagnosed with Pre-B cell lymphoma, an aggressive cancer of the blood where an abundance of B-cell lymphoblasts – immature white blood cells – are found in the blood and bone marrow. It was May 21, 2009, two days after his seventh birthday.

Initially, Johnny, who will be a senior at Monroe Township High School in the fall, said his family thought he was going through growing pains after feeling pain in his back and abdomen.

He is currently in a survivorship program – LITE at Rutgers Cancer Institute – which educates pediatric cancer survivors about cancer treatment. He said check ups went from every six months to now once a year at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

He said now as a cancer survivor he works to give back to the foundations that have helped him along the way, including New Brunswick-based Embrace Kids Foundation, which exists to lighten the burden, maintain normalcy and improve the quality of life for families whose children are facing cancer, sickle cell and other serious health challenges and RU for Kids, where volunteers hang out and help with patients and their families.

The event at Great Adventure marks the first time at any venue – within the world’s largest regional theme park company – that a roller coaster has been wrapped in support of cancer awareness.

“As we continue to focus on innovations in cancer research and patient care, this collaboration offers a unique opportunity to celebrate survivors, further demonstrating our commitment to cancer education,” said Barry H. Ostrowsky, president and chief executive officer at RWJBarnabas Health. “While the wrapped coaster is the centerpiece of this campaign, the opportunity to integrate additional cancer awareness elements throughout the park is critical as we deliver important educational and prevention information to diverse audiences.”

This multi-faceted partnership aligns with RWJBarnabas Health’s mission to advance health care while promoting health and wellness initiatives, and education, in communities served across the state. The Coasters for Cancer campaign at Great Adventure includes a breadth of on-site elements that will be implemented across the park throughout the season, along with fundraising opportunities to support cancer research. Highlights include the main entrance fountain will be branded RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute, and all coins collected throughout the season will be used to further support cancer research, according to information provided on behalf of the cause.

“As progress continues to be made in research leading to new therapies to treat cancer, advances also are being made in efforts to prevent cancer – whether through access to screening, lifestyle changes, or education,” said Rutgers Cancer Institute Director Steven K. Libutti, who is also the senior vice president of oncology services at RWJBarnabas Health.

He said “as New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute together with RWJBarnabas Health is pleased to join forces with Six Flags Great Adventure to celebrate and recognize those on the cancer journey and to enhance cancer prevention awareness through the unique outreach of the Coasters for Cancer initiative.”

The Coasters for Cancer initiative is a fully integrated program which includes queue line signage plus digital billboards and content on the Six Flags TV network, which will amplify the program by delivering cancer awareness and prevention messaging across the venue throughout the season.

All season long, parkgoers entering the Runaway Mine Train queue line will be able to show their support for cancer survivors by sharing photos using a specially designed Snapchat geofilter.

In June, guests who purchased tickets online had the opportunity to add a dollar to their purchase in support of cancer research.

“It’s truly inspiring to team up with RWJBarnabas Health and the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey to support a cause that impacts so many families,” said Six Flags Great Adventure President John Winkler. “We all share a vision to make a difference, and through an innovative, collaborative effort, the Coasters for Cancer campaign offers a unique platform to amplify awareness for cancer while enjoying a visit to the World’s Ultimate Thrill Park.”

Six Flags Great Adventure will also hold four blood drives throughout the season, and all blood collected will be used to strengthen and stabilize blood bank inventories across RWJBarnabas Health. Blood from donors is commonly used to treat cancer patients, underpinning the impact of blood drives as an important complement to the campaign.

Contact Kathy Chang at

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