By Joe Barone & Laura Hull
This is a story about a family who let love be their guide in the face of daunting obstacles. In 2004, when their beloved mom, Terry Romeo, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it was the love and support of her husband of more than 50 years, Tony, and her family that buoyed her through her four-year battle.
Terry, the mother of four and grandmother of nine, lived a rich and full life. Aside from teaching in Deer Park, on Long Island, NY for over 35 years, she was a proud member of the Sons of Italy where she lent her talents to heading the Gift of Sight program. One of her best post-diagnosis days was attending a heartfelt Jubilee mass that the diocese of Rockville Center hosted for couples married 50+ years. Her family turned it into a party!
That’s why Terry’s Team came together again in 2020—not as the large group that had been walking in the LI Lustgarten walk since 2004—but as a virtual team. COVID-19 would not dampen their spirit! The Lustgarten Foundation’s first Long Island Virtual Walk, which was held on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, may have looked different, but the Romeo family’s enthusiasm never waned. They hit the pavement, in their mom’s memory, from four different states.
“The virtual walk was a lot of fun,” said Terry’s daughter, Laura Hull. “Terry’s Team got creative with how we walked.”
“I was up in Vermont with one of my sisters, we made big signs thanking Lustgarten and hoisted them over our heads for pictures,” Laura added. Laura’s brother Stephen, sisters Christine and Maribeth and their families joined in on the adventure.
“I said, ‘Try to take a picture that shows you are in Boston. Go into Times Square for a New York City shot. Send a fun video so people know you’re in North Carolina,’“ Laura shared. “You could tell we were up in the country somewhere. We had a great time with it.”
“We really look forward to this event every year,” Laura said. “We feel indebted to Lustgarten. I cannot overstate how fortunate we feel that every dime we raise or donate goes toward research.”
It’s a sentiment many families share. Knowing 100% 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: their mom 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 had it,” Laura said. Then I remembered Michael Landon talking about his cancer diagnosis on a talk show years before. The tone of that interview made me think he might have been talking about this cancer. I did some research on him and that was our first inkling of what we were up against.”
Around the same time that the reality of what lay ahead was dawning on her and her family, President Jimmy Carter was featured in a public service announcement about the disease, Laura recollected. “The PSA (which was funded by the Lustgarten Foundation, along with Cablevision) was focused on heightening awareness for the need for research. The tagline, “There is a cure. It’s called research.” has stayed with Laura all these years.
“To this day, that sentence is the focus of hope for my entire family. It woke us all up to the importance of research,” Laura shared. “Research costs money but it’s so crucial. It’s the road to a cure: research, research, research. It’s the only way we’ll conquer this disease.”
That belief and the love for their mother continue to motivate Laura and her family to donate generously to Lustgarten every year. They all want to live in a world where their children and grandchildren won’t have to worry about the disease that took their 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.”
Whatever form future Lustgarten walks take, Terry’s Team will be there. “The walks are a tremendous comfort,” Laura shared. “Walking and seeing that other families are going through the same thing we’re dealing with—we all take great comfort from that. We 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 touch by this disease.
This year, in four different states Terry’s Team wore shirts that read: “Purple…It’s not just a color. It’s a Cure.” While they weren’t side-by-side this time around, the Romeo family was grateful to keep the tradition alive alongside their loving mother’s legacy.