From a mother’s broken heart comes a story of hope and the promise of recovery for anyone facing devastating loss. Long time St. Maarten visitors, Carol and Ron Zenaro of Shrewsbury Massachusetts, met with WEEKender this week at one of their favorite spots on the island, Topper’s. They are the toast of the happy hour crowd, a diverse collection of regulars who are quick to bring newcomers into the fold. Here you can find friendship, camaraderie and something more, something deeply touching.
It was six years ago that Carol and Ron’s son, Scott, succumbed to his battle with cancer. Diagnosed at age 30 with Ewing’s Sarcoma, Scott had endured more than four years of treatments, including surgeries and chemotherapy, at the famed Massachusetts General Hospital. That’s when his oncologist told him the phrase no one wants to hear: there is nothing more I can do for you. Traditional treatments had failed to help him, the prognosis was grim. The Zenaros were devastated and had no idea where to turn, but there was a thread of hope. They were told about a foundation that helps end-stage cancer patients with alternative medicine, including involvement with experimental and clinical trials.
The Lazarex Cancer Foundation is based in Danville, California and is the creation of Dana Dornsife. Their mission is “to improve the outcome of cancer care, giving hope, dignity and life to advanced stage cancer patients and the medically underserved by providing assistance with costs for FDA clinical trial participation, identification of clinical trial options, community outreach and education.” Lazarex was established in 2003 when Dornsife’s brother in law passed away due to pancreatic cancer. Although she was trained as a lighting engineer and an interior designer, Dornsife saw herself becoming an advocate for patients. Since that time, hundreds of people have been blessed with hope and extended lives through her efforts. One of those was Ron and Carol’s son.
Scott Zenaro was able to live another two and a half years, thanks to Lazarex. His parents are keeping his spirit alive, and they cannot stop singing the praises of the foundation that did so much for him. “They helped us set him up in California, and they paid for all associated costs, including covering the rent for a nice apartment,” they told me over mixed drinks at Topper’s. The treatments he received there made a huge difference, it was just unbelievable,” said Carol. “He was comfortable and happy. He even got a dog while he was out there in California, well, we have her now.” This prompted Ron to show pictures of the dog on his phone to everyone at the table, a gorgeous brown and white pit bull with a sweet face, a legacy of love.
While Scott was receiving all this specialized help, Carol decided to begin a project as a way to say thank you to the Lazarex Foundation. Although she had never been an ‘arts & crafts’ kind of person, she thought she just might be able to make beaded bracelets. She began with clay beads, and then found a special style that spoke to her. Glass beads in the shape of a heart. These became her symbols of the love she feels for her son, her husband, her friends, family and the Lazarex Foundation. She found these glass beads right here on the Friendly Island, at a wholesale jeweler in Marigot. Carol gets another of the beads, a roundel, from another wholesaler on Front Street. So where ever she goes, she sells the bracelets and the wearer then carries a little heart from St. Maarten as they go. But they also know they carry a mother’s love.
Carol’s bracelets have become a passion, even an obsession, for her. “When he passed, I couldn’t think, I just went blank, all I could do was sit and make bracelets. Holding the beads in my fingers and looking at colors and patterns, it was comforting. Sometimes I work fast and everything is how I like it, then other times I put one together and look at it and say no, then I take it apart and try a different combination.”
The gang at Topper’s is well aware of Carol and her bracelets. She and Ron have been a fixture there for years, as they stay just down the road at the Royal Palm during their extended visits to the island. Everyone stops by to look at the new styles, and buy them as souvenirs and gifts for loved ones back home. The bracelets sell for US $20 and all the proceeds go directly to the Lazarex Cancer Foundation.
All told, the Zenaros have raised and donated more than US $120,000 to Lazarex. Most of that money, about $ 78,000, was raised from the sale of Carol’s bracelets. They have a personal goal of reaching $80,000 while they are on the island this trip. That gives them until March when they return to the states. “Can you imagine?” asked Ron, “So much money can be raised just from these twenty-dollar bracelets?” In addition to the bracelet sales, they were able to raise $39,000 through a raffle of Scott’s custom motorcycle. Ron emphasized that 100% of donations to Lazarex go to the patients; the administrative costs of Lazarex are all covered by the foundation itself.
The couple continues to stay active in the Lazarex community, traveling to California to volunteer with their annual gala event. At one of the events, they were honored for their extraordinary efforts. This vacation, the Zenaros even brought one of the Lazarex employees, patient coordinator and office manager Tami Keeler, with them to the island. Ron explained, “She was close to our son and she dealt with him very frequently. They became very close friends. And she had never been to St. Maarten.”
Lazarex Cancer Foundation and the Zenaro family stand out as the best of the human spirit. Holding out hope, providing support and giving love to those in need. For more information about Lazarex, check out their website www.lazarex.org. If you would like to see the bracelets, call Ron’s local number 554-1170 or email [email protected]. Better yet, stop by Topper’s over the coming weeks, they are often there… during, you guessed it, happy hour.
By Lisa Davis-Burnett