Keith E. Jacobson/Staff Photographer
Two Newton families began the "Celebrate Life Foundation" in 2003 after each lost a loved one to breast cancer. They are supporting the just opened AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center in Boston and have named a sitting area in the facility. Susan Penta, her mother June Sgarzi, and daughter June (L to R) in the area they named along with the members of the Tocci family
Two Newton families continue to fight cancer
By Chrissie Lond, Staff Writer
Tue Nov 11, 2008, 02:32 PM ESTA rainbow crossed the sky on a Wednesday afternoon in late October while Sue Penta was in downtown Boston opening a home for cancer patients.
Penta, who lost her sister, Cathy Langan, to breast cancer four years prior, knew her sister was with her that day, for an upside-down rainbow also smiled in the sky on the day of Cathy’s funeral.
“That rainbow hit home for me,” said Penta, a Newton resident, who watched as the American Cancer Society cut the ribbon on the new AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center on October 29. The home will provide free shelter to hundreds of families who travel to Boston for medical treatments for cancer-related issues. “[The rainbow] made everything so special. It felt as if she was sending a message.”
Opening a home for cancer patients was a dream Penta shared with the Tocci family.
When both families lost two young women — Rosemarie Tocci, 41, and Langan, 37 — to breast cancer less than five years ago, they rallied together to create the Celebrate Life Foundation, with an underlying mission of establishing a home for cancer patients.
The home was Rosemarie Tocci’s vision, and it was one of many ideas she dreamed of while fighting the illness.
“She often talked about her desire to turn her home into a healing house,” said good friend and former employer John Nardozzi. “When her husband objected, saying that he didn’t want people to die in his house, she responded, ‘I am not talking about people dying. I am talking about people healing.’”
Tocci, a former Newton resident, had the whole home planned out. She’d provide warm, darkened sheets to visitors so they wouldn’t stain. She’d get up and make toast in the middle of the night to make her guests feel at home. But mostly, the cancer patients could find comfort in each other as they battled their illnesses together.
But Tocci died before her dream became a reality.
So Nardozzi took her vision as his mission. He enlisted the help of family friend Sue Penta, who lost her sister to cancer a year after Tocci died.
But the roadblocks seemed enormous. They had to fundraise to buy the perfect property, outfit it with proper medical supplies and set up a trust that would pay for yearly operating costs.
Somewhere in the process, they linked up with the American Cancer Society, which was looking to establish a similar home for cancer patients.
“We showed them our mission statement and they showed us theirs, and it was almost like we had written them together,” Nardozzi said.
Nardozzi and Penta recognized that the American Cancer Society had the resources and experience they didn’t have to create a healing house. Pledging $400,000 to the center, the Celebrate Life Foundation became one of the first supporters.
“This made my mother’s dream come true,” said Matt Tocci, who remembered his mother as someone who thought about everyone else before she thought of herself. “This is exactly what she wanted.”
Matt was only 19 when his mother died. He remembers how she fetched warm towels from the dryer for him when he got out of the shower and how she’d spend all night dancing, even if she was sick.
Cathy, who also died of breast cancer, left behind four children under the age of 6. A graduate of Newton High School, she owned a sub shop with her sister in Watertown and also worked as a real estate agent.
“These women were amazing,” said Penta, whose son was best friends with Tocci’s son, Matt. “I will never forget them.”
Now that their names grace a sitting room in the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center, their memory will live on in another way. Even though they died well before their time, Penta said, both Cathy and Rosemarie will help other cancer patients breathe a little easier through the new Hope Lodge.
The home, which opened in early Novemberafter four years of planning and construction, will provide a total of 14,600 free nights a year for hundreds of cancer patients and family members. With 40 new private suites and shared cooking and dining facilities, library and screening room, the healing home will be a place to retreat for those traveling to Boston hospitals for medical treatment.
“Having the [Celebrate Life Foundation] involved in this effort went beyond their gift,” said Chris Thomas, senior vice president for leadership and giving for the American Cancer Society. “The vision they wanted to accomplish was very much in line with what we wanted to accomplish. It felt right that they were part of this vision as we moved further.”
Penta said that even after the foundation fulfills its pledge to the American Cancer Society, she will stay involved whether through holiday decorations, fundraising efforts or yearly events.
“I will always play a role in Hope Lodge,” Penta said. “Even if we were a small part in the construction of Hope Lodge, the American Cancer Society made us feel like we were an important part. The home is meaningful to me and to the memory of my sister.”
Chrissie Long can be reached at email@example.com.
Rosmarie Tocci and Catherine Langan’s Celebrate Life Foundation has pledged $400,000 to the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center in Boston. They’ve been able to fundraise $250,000. To help them fulfill their pledge, mail check or money order payable to Celebrate Life Foundation Inc., c/o Sue Penta, 483 Pleasant St., Watertown, MA 02472.