Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Blessing in Disguise


By Patricia Adams

Champions are defined in many ways and fall into many categories. Many of them are famous--Michael Phelps is an Olympic champion, Mohammed Ali a boxing champion, Secretariat a thoroughbred racing champion. The word champion can also be assigned to Bono and other celebrities who champion causes to fight disease and world hunger.

But the word champion does not always have to be equated with celebrity. You don’t have to be famous to be a champion; for what defines a true champion is not by how well they are known; instead it is the content of their heart, the tenacity of their spirit and their willingness to fight against all odds.

On Monday night in Howard Beach more than 500 guests turned out to honor a champion of the truest measure. Not marked by any stellar achievements that will go down in the history books, this champion is loved, respected and revered for the courage, strength and determination she has displayed over the past several years in a struggle against an all too familiar enemy — cancer.

Mary Napolitano is so many things. She is a wife to John, a mother to Dawn-Marie, Dana and Christopher, a sister to Nancy, a member of a family which she now knows stretches far beyond those related just by blood, and a friend of many and to many.

But she is also a beacon of hope for all those who would ever think about giving up the fight. And at Russo’s on the Bay on Monday evening there was an outpouring of support and love demonstrating just how much everyone recognizes what a champion Mary truly is.

The beautiful words spoken at the event by Mary’s sister and also by her daughter Dawn-Marie told of her unbelievable endurance against cancer, but it also told of a woman with enough love and compassion for others to fill a room far bigger than the one they spoke before on Monday night.

On each table was a letter addressed to family and friends, it was signed by Mary Napolitano and every truly wise journalist knows that sometimes there is no way to better express how extraordinary an individual is than to let them say it themselves.

So here is, in its entirety a letter from Mary Napolitano:

Dear Family and Friends,

I am at a loss for the “perfect” way to put my gratitude into words. So, I will just speak from the heart. I never understood it when cancer patients would claim that their diagnosis was actually a “blessing.” Of course, I did not feel this way at the beginning or even for the first year while I went through my surgeries, chemo and radiation. It wasn’t until I finally started to feel better that I could see what was going on around me.

Cancer brings out the best in the people around you. Needless to say, my entire family, and especially my husband John, were my strength. But, it was all the other people in my life that showed me in so many different ways that they were there for me, from thoughtful cards and gift baskets to picking up my kids at school, to cooking for us. I have the best circle of friends that I could ever ask for. And, now my friends and family have taken it a step further by throwing this party for me, and in doing so, it has opened up the door for so many more of you to show how generous you are.

As I write this letter to you, I still have not been made privy of all the details of this event. I don’t know how many people will be there or how many people will be attending, but what I do know is that anyone who is reading this letter right now cares for me and wants to help me and it is almost too much for me to handle. So, now I too can say that my cancer has been a “blessing” in that I can now see how blessed I really am in having a family and friends like you.

During this time of financial stress, I know a lot of people are cutting back. That is another reason why I am so grateful for all of you who came to this event. I also realize how difficult it is to get out on a school/work night. I truly hope that you enjoyed yourself, had a nice meal, danced a little bit and maybe had a chance to socialize with people that you haven’t seen in a while.

I will never forget this night and every single one of you who came to show me you support. I will keep all of you in my prayers as I hope you will keep me and my family in yours. With all my love and gratitude, Mary

We also received a letter from a dear friend of Mary’s, written to the editor, but because of the eloquence and heartfelt tones of the letter, we thought it more appropriate to print it here, as it is one whose words also help to best explain the essence of Mary Napolitano.

Dear Editor,

As proud Howard Beach residents for the past 45 years, my wife and I have seen our neighborhood bashed by the press for several years now. Outsiders hear the name Howard Beach and it conjures up horrific images of “bad people” doing horrible things. The press preys over our neighborhood like vultures waiting to report on any incident that sheds a negative light on our community.

I believe that the true spirit of our fine community is not reflected by past events, but rather by a very recent one. This past Monday evening, November 17th my family and I attended a fundraising event at Russo’s on the Bay for a young, beautiful woman, Mary Napolitano.

The event was filled to capacity by over 500 people – all Howard Beach residents – all gathered together with love and compassion to help raise funds for the medications that this young woman so desperately needs. The room was consumed with love and prayers and as I looked around the room, I could not help but feel proud of how my community rallied together to help Mary and her family. Mary’s spirit shines like a beacon of light and instead of seeing her weakness; we see her and her family as a source of strength and inspiration.

In my opinion, she has the essence of Mother Teresa dwelling in her heart and based on the huge turnout at her fundraiser, I am not alone. Mary gives of herself both heart and soul and she continues to spread the goodness and compassion that only she can offer. This past summer she voyaged to Lourdes, but not to pray for herself. That is not who Mary is. Instead, she volunteered to work as a missionary amongst the world’s most despaired. She prayed with them and for them and as she witnessed the desperation around her, her prayers and determination grew stronger.

She returned from Lourdes with a new and enriched sense of purpose and strength. Judging by the love that overwhelmed Russo’s on the Bay this past Monday evening, I believe that we are all truly blessed by knowing Mary and her family. We will all continue to remember her in our prayers. Not only shall we pray for her, but also to her; for she has shown us how to embrace life and the importance of cherishing each day as the blessing that it truly is.


Nicholas F. LoPrinzi
Howard Beach

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