In Memory of Stephen A Comunale, Jr.
A young man grows up and follows a path that includes the transition from high school to college, college to the work world. Along the way he has a journey that defines who he is and who he will become. Usually it is the young man who is influenced by others but in Stephen’s life it was he who influenced others.
From Akron, Ohio he transitioned to Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. While there not only did he accomplish his college goals but participated in a world he had learned as a young man, the horse world. He cultivated friends and earned the admiration of those in the world of hunter/jumper competition by his skills in organizing and helping run competitive meets. These friends he made were friends for life.
Stephen also developed a keen eye and skill with the pool cue during these years and had a hobby that brought him great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment, as well as entertainment. It also was a way to find some “pocket change” with his considerable skill!
After his journey to western New York, he did as many young persons do and returned home to join his father’s business, S.A. Comunale Fire Protection and Plumbing. Here he quickly began to influence this large company with his demeanor and skills as a leader and tireless worker. From estimating, to job site management, to people management, this young man earned the respect of all to the seasoned staff at SAC. Most remarkable was the quickness at which he mastered all aspects of the complicated business. Soon he earned the respect of his partner, mentor and boss, his father!
So the day he came to his physician with the complaint of stomach pain, it was easy to blame the pain in his stomach on stress, but a test was done to check for ulcers. From that day on his world and the world of so many people began to be forever changed. Cancer…..???!!! Cancer???? He is only 26 years old! The radiologist and his physician talked in disbelief and went through a differential that included the most hopeful possibilities. But soon all the tests revealed the fateful truth, Adenocarcinoma of the stomach, stage 4B. To Stephen and his family, the news was met with many questions and a quest for the best cancer minds available. But most important, the news was met with the famous “CAN DO ATTITUDE” that is part of the culture of the Comunale Family.
As treatment began there was tremendous family and friend support. Aunts, uncles, friends and Julie, the love of Stephen’s life all were there day after day with the love and caring of an extended family and community. But the real story was Stephen. He never complained, never. When asked about pain he would be very emphatic that he was in control and that there was a big difference between pain and discomfort!
Trips to Massachusetts General were helpful for Stephen to understand that this was not curable but tough on everyone else as we all wanted a miracle. But Stephen knew and as time went on he continued to work to the amazement of his employees and family, but he was happy.
When the trips to the office became difficult, he had a sense of the future and was able to connect with the great friends of his past, the horse crowd and his pool pals. He continued the nightly movies and Law and Order marathons with family, friends and the dog in his den/bedroom. Swelling, shortness of breath, weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss led everyone to implore the medical people to “DO SOMETHING!” But Stephen knew that nothing tasted better than a certain type of pickle, a virgin bloody mary, a smoothie or some other wild choice of craving would make him feel better! He knew. In the remaining few weeks he went to Kentucky with his siblings and friends to watch pool tournaments. He came home with new pool cues and was happy to explain the uniqueness of this or that. In his den/bedroom he had a new mini sized pool table so when he felt able, he could stroke a few shots (and he rarely missed).
What was to be more chemotherapy on Wednesday turned into the inevitable, Stephen’s body just failed. But the next 12 hours he was surrounded by no less than 30 friends and family and the love of his life, Julie. We broke all the rules that night at the hospital, cell phones, number of visitors, sleeping in the lounge, too many people in the room at one time, parking in the front circle and many more. The hospital staff knew this was a special person, a young man who was so loved and a family who was so heart broken, friends who were hurting and Julie who was there in total love and support until the last breath, with the words ”Stephen, I am so sorry you had to go through this, I love you so much.”
It was Stephen who never complained. It was Stephen who touched our hearts, the hearts and souls of all the different persons in his life. It was Stephen who lived his life with the “CAN DO ATTITUDE.”
It is why his life will live on with his foundation because “WE CAN DO.” We can raise the funds to help those who at times cannot do. Ease their ability to fight this terrible disease, CANCER. We can make their fight less burdensome so they will learn they also” CAN DO!”