Community members have joined together to honor the triumph of one young woman gone too soon.
Erika J. Macrelli, 22, died on Dec. 22, 2020 of fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare cancer, after a diagnosis nearly five years ago.
To celebrate the bravery of this Islip woman, her family and friends have formed a campaign to add a bench and tree in her name at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River.
On Jan. 2, Erika’s eldest sister, Elizabeth, formed the GoFundMe page “In Memory of Erika J. Macrelli.” All money will be used exclusively to pay for the memorial projects in the state park.
“She fought long and hard, especially the last four months, but at the end of the day, it was too much,” the page reads. “In Erika’s honor, we would like to add a bench and tree at Bayard Cutting Arboretum, in Great River, Long Island. This will be a place for her friends and family to come and visit when missing her, or in need of some peace.”
Erika’s uncle and godfather, Vinnie Simeone, of Islip, is the beneficiary responsible for the projects. He said his niece adored nature – especially Bayard Cutting, where she’d visit often with Elizabeth, her parents, George and Joanne, and twin sister Emily.
“Erika was liked by everyone she came in contact with,” he said. “She was quiet and shy, but at the same time, she was very likeable and caring. She had a quick wit and dry sense of humor, too. She just had a certain charm about her.”
Simeone said that this trait stood out to Erika’s mother, Joanne, because “as shy and unassuming as Erika was, she rarely got the notoriety that she should have,” he said.
“She was an awesome, caring person, always willing to help others, Simeone noted.
Just a few days after its creation, the fundraiser surpassed its goal of $5,000 with contributions from over 100 people. As of Jan. 26, a total $6,140 has been raised for the memorial project.
“Our family has been overwhelmed with all of the support and kindness of so many people,” Simeone said. “Words cannot describe how grateful my fami- ly is for the kindness of so many. It’s a testament to how loved Erika and the Macrelli family is.”
The family has started preliminary discussions with Bayard staff about the memorial, but the details of the projects have not yet been finalized. Simeone said the family aims to have something in place this spring.
During her senior year at Islip High School, Erika was diagnosed with FHCC, a rare liver cancer which, according to Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation, usually occurs in adolescents and young adults who have no history of liver disease.
The school community is also working to construct a memorial to honor Erika, who graduated in 2016. An 8-foot bridge will be placed in the high school's courtyard in rememberance of the young woman. Her former science and foreign language teachers, Mr. Menecke and Mrs. Reagan respectively, are responsible for that project.
Back in September, sisters Elizabeth and Emily organized a separate fundraiser for their family to help contribute to the costs of Erika’s recovery. That fundraiser has since closed.
The family is still accepting donations for the memorial. To contribute to the campaign, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ in-memory-of-erika-j-macrelli.
Supporters are also encouraged to donate to the Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation, which aims to find a cure and treatment options for the disease.