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Loved one’s cancer loss lives on to help others through family foundation

Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. with two others
After Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. (center) lost his life to cancer at 26, his family started a foundation in his honor to help assist cancer patients and their families with medical costs.

On Saturday, Oct. 31, the Stephen A. Comunale, Jr., Family Cancer Foundation is hosting its fourth Spin For Life fundraising event in the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn.

Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. and the event will run from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

The Comunale family formed the Foundation in 2006 in memory of Stephen A. Comunale, Jr., after losing him to cancer at the age of 27 in February of that year.  Since that time, the family has endured the loss of his aunt, Amy Comunale Klein, and his mother, Jane Comunale, to cancer, as well.  The family is committed to continuing and growing the Foundation as a living tribute to Stephen, Amy and Jane.

In order to learn more about the Foundation’s work and Spin For Life, I spoke with the Foundation’s Executive Director Monica Comunale Stevens, and Colleen Iacianci of RDA Hotel Management Co., the organization that manages operations at the Hilton Fairlawn/Akron and provides a great deal of support to the Foundation.

Stevens and Iacianci shared that the Foundation’s primary purpose is to provide financial assistance through grants to individuals and families as they battle cancer.  The grants aim to help ease the day-to-day financial worries of cancer patients, their families and their caregivers, by providing funds to cover a variety of expenses such as mortgage/rent, electric and gas bills, transportation, childcare and other needs that arise. The hope is that while individuals and their families are fighting cancer, worries about financial obligations can be lessened, enabling them to focus on treatment and healing. Financial needs that arise are often urgent, and the Foundation aims to fund grant applications within 48 hours of receiving them.

Stephen A. Comunale, Jr.
Stephen A. Comunale, Jr.

The Foundation also supports the Akron General Medical Center McDowell Cancer Institute’s Art Therapy Program. The program is for adults battling cancer, and is run by board certified art therapist, Amber Smith. Its goal is to reduce patient anxiety and pain and provide a creative outlet for expressing the range of emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis. Each year, the participants in the program create a collaborative project that, when completed, is hung in the lobby of the McDowell Cancer Institute. The 2015 project is entitled “Ribbons of Courage.” It depicts a lion whose mane is comprised of cancer ribbons, each personally designed and executed by a patient or a family member. As well as hanging the original, reproductions are made into necklaces that sell for $15. One hundred percent of the proceeds go back into the art therapy program.

Ribbons of Courage artwork
‘Ribbons of Courage,’ which features ribbons personally designed by cancer patients and their family members, is this year’s art project at the Akron General Medical Center McDowell Cancer Institute’s Art Therapy Program. The program is supported by the Stephen A. Comunale, Jr., Family Cancer Foundation.

Other programs the Foundation supports include its holiday meal program, summer horse camp and Jane’s Sunshine Bags, which provides goody bags for each newly diagnosed cancer patient containing comfort items such as a blanket and crossword puzzle books, as well is items that are particularly helpful to patients receiving cancer treatments such as specific types of snacks, lip balm and mouthwash.

Stevens stated, “In 2015 we will reach over 1,000 people with the programming we support.” She said that the programming, with the occasional exception, is intended to serve individuals and families battling cancer in Summit County.

Next, we talked about Spin For Life, their fundraising event that takes place Oct. 31. “The idea here is that anyone can get on a bike and pedal. Only about 10 percent of participants in past years have been serious cyclists,” shared Iacianci.

Riding times are hourly, and participants may choose to ride from one hour to six hours. The cost is $200 per rider per hour, and riders may form teams and solicit friends and associates to make donations to sponsor them.

Certified personal trainer Jackie Banayan of Jackie’s Gym will serve as trainer and motivator. Massages by Fairlawn Massage, barre by Sue Costigan of Tru Barre Studio, and yoga led by Martha Meyo will be available onsite, as well. Each cyclist will receive a goodie bag filled with an athletic tee, BPA-free water bottle and a towel. There will also be a gourmet snack station.

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