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What do you do when a friend, a family member or a colleague is diagnosed with breast cancer?
What do you say? How do you act? How can you help?
There are as many ways of being a co-survivor as there are people. Thoughtful gestures big and small mean a great deal to survivors, whether they've just been diagnosed or completed treatment years ago.
Each Race Day, Komen Greater NYCpresents the Co-Survivor Award recognizing the many kinds of support that a breast cancer Survivor may experience on his/her journey through the disease. Effective co-Survivors demonstrate tact, commitment, compassion, creativity, patience, initiative, dependability and endurance.
The 2011 recipient was Michael Vernale who received his award from actress and Komen ambassador Gabrielle Union at a ceremony in Survivor Village.Vernale’s daughter Lisa Vernale Fusco was recipient of the Survivor of the Year Award. Both his wife and daughter are breast cancer survivors, and he is also a cancer survivor.
Michael Vernale grew up in the Bronx in a traditional Italian family. He was raised with strong family values that he passed down to his children. He is the patriarch and rock of the family — father of five, grandfather of four. Vernale and his wife Barbara have been together for over 30 years, and their love and respect for one another is “remarkable.”
Vernale stood by his wife when she was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time some 12 years ago and, again, when she was diagnosed for a second time seven years later. Not overly emotional and very private, his daughter Lisa describes him as “strong for everyone.” He handles situations in his own way, doing everything in his power not to let others know if he is afraid or sad.
“My dad loves my mother deeply,” Fusco explained, “and it shows in many ways.” It was hard for him to see her go through chemotherapy, but they got through it as “they get through everything,”
The year before Fusco was diagnosed with breast cancer, her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He took the diagnosis in stride, battled it and is a survivor himself. It was only recently that he began sharing the news of his illness with others.
“I have always been my daddy’s princess and telling him I had cancer was one of the hardest things I had to do, “remembered Fusco. “I knew it would break his heart. He rallied to support me, like the rest of my family. That is how he raised us, to stand by one another no matter what. He shows me unconditional love and is truly an amazing man.”
Susan G. Komen for the Cure has created a program for co-survivors that offers advice on how to support a person with breast cancer and provides information on what to expect before, during and after treatment.
For more information, visit the Co-Survivor Program.