By Joe Barone
This is a story about love and how it motivates families to persevere through any obstacle life puts in their path.
Love was what got the Romeo family matriarch, Terry, through her pancreatic cancer battle every day for four years. It was what helped her caregivers never get too exhausted, or too depressed. It was what united the Romeo family this autumn to complete a walk that even a global pandemic couldn’t put a damper on.
Terry Romeo, a thoughtful Long Island, New York preschool teacher for more than 35 years, lived a life of love. She educated Deer Park, Long Island’s youth, gave back to the community through the Sons of Italy and Gift of Sight foundations, and was honored in a heartfelt Jubilee mass at the Rockville Centre diocese for couples married more than 50 years.
That’s why Terry’s Team came together again—this time, not as a singular, large group but as a virtual team walking in their own neighborhoods across the eastern seaboard. COVID-19 may have changed the annual walk they’ve been doing year after year on Long Island since 2004 but it couldn’t dampen their resolve. Terry’s Team continued to keep their mother’s spirit alive as they participated in the Lustgarten Foundation’s first Long Island Virtual Walk on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020.
“The virtual walk was a lot of fun,” said Terry’s daughter Laura Hull. “Our family joined us from so many different locations. I was up in Vermont with one of my sisters. We made big signs and we ran all over the place.”
Laura’s brother Stephen, sisters Christine and Maribeth, and their families joined in on the adventure.
“I said ‘Try to take a picture where you can see you’re in Boston. Go into Times Square to show you’re in New York City. Send a fun video to make it look like you’re in North Carolina,’” Laura shared. “You can tell we were up in the country somewhere. It was truly a blast.”
Hundreds of miles separated the Romeo family on walk day, but it was as if everyone was back together in Old Westbury like the first time they participated in the Long Island Walk in 2004. That’s what love does.
“We really look forward to this event every year,” Laura said. “We feel indebted to Lustgarten. How lucky are we that every dime goes toward research?”
It’s a sentiment many families share. Knowing 100 percent of every donation goes directly to research makes it even easier to give. There is nothing to think twice about, and that’s why the Romeo family has raised and donated thousands of dollars with two things in mind: Terry and research.
Yet, when their mother was diagnosed, Laura and her siblings were unsure of what pancreatic cancer was.
“We didn’t know anybody who had it,” Laura said. “I googled Michael Landon. Years before, he had been on a talk show sharing about the cancer he had. I remembered him talking about pancreatic cancer and said: ‘Oh God, now I know what this is.’”
At that same time, Laura recollected former President Jimmy Carter’s public service announcement about the disease, which allowed her to put two and two together. The PSA was focused on heightening awareness for the need for increased research and was part of a larger PSA campaign developed by Cablevision Systems Corporation and the Lustgarten Foundation.
“He lost his father, brother, and two sisters] to pancreatic cancer,” she said. “The tagline of the PSA was ‘There is a cure, it is called research.’ That has stuck with me all of these years.”
Adding, “It drove home the importance of research. Research costs money but it’s so crucial. That’s how we’re going to find a cure: research, research, research. It’s the only way we can conquer this disease.”
Though they were frightened for their mother’s well-being, Laura and her devoted siblings never once let that get in the way of being the best caregivers possible. Laura, Stephen, Christine, and Maribeth, their families, and their amazing father Anthony, were Terry’s cheerleaders and kept her going. While they admit it was a long four years, they are confident the total number of survivors will continue to grow exponentially in the years to come.
That belief and the love for her mother continue to motivate Laura and her family to donate generously to Lustgarten every year. Laura wants to live in a world where her children and grandchildren won’t have to worry about the disease that took her mother.
“We want to give back to Lustgarten,” Laura said. “It’s not just an organization. It’s a group of people working together for patients and families so hopefully future generations won’t have to go through what we went through.”
“The walks are a tremendous comfort,” Laura shared. “Walking and seeing other families going through the same thing you’re going through—I take great comfort out of it. You don’t feel so alone.”
That is the purpose of these walks—to give families an outlet and an opportunity to honor their loved ones who’ve been touched by this disease.
This year, in five different states, Terry’s Team wore shirts that read: ‘Purple… It’s not just a color. It’s a Cure.’ While they weren’t all side-by-side this time around, the Romeo family recognized the importance of keeping the tradition alive alongside their loving mother’s legacy.