Meet the faces we help fund: The Runway Families

Runway’s annual fashion show is one of our favorite events, and while we love that evening and cannot wait to bring this year’s re-imagined Runway to you, much of the work we do every day is in support of our Family Grant Program. This critical component of Runway funds families who have had an immediate family member pass away from breast cancer. Grants fund everything from summer camps to daycare, tutoring, extracurricular activities, school supplies, gym and wellness memberships, financial counseling, meal support and more in the aftermath of a loss (for more information about the grant application process, click here).

When we say your dollars directly fund a family, we mean it. This month, we bring you the stories of two recipients of our Family Grants with the hope that they will inspire you to share, to give and to help us further our mission of honoring survivors and funding families impacted by breast cancer.

Lifelong Woburn resident Paula Malho was just 45 years old when she passed away from breast cancer in 2015. Paula was a vibrant and beautiful person, full of life and strength even as a breast cancer diagnosis turned her world upside down. To her children, she was the absolute best mother before, during and after her diagnosis. In the face of incredible circumstances, Paula put her children first. Time as time again they saw her pull off the magical work of being a mom and putting their needs ahead of her own. 

Paula & Erica

Paula’s daughter Erica was a middle school student when her mom was diagnosed. Looking back, Erica, now a college student at Plymouth State University, recalls how hard it was “to comprehend hearing your parent is sick.” One of the things that Erica underscores about this time in her life is that “it was such a big, emotional time overall” but on a micro level, “we still had daily needs that needed to be met.” 

Paula & Dylan

Erica and her brother Dylan were extremely fortunate. They experienced first-hand the benefits of having a team of family and friends rally around them as Paula became unable to work while bills still needed to be paid. Paula died when Erica was a freshman in high school and “having people that loved my mom and us step up was the most amazing thing” she recalls. 

Paula, Erica, Dylan, Paul’s mom, and family and friends

As time marched on, things changed, simply because the reality of life is such that “all hands-on deck” support doesn’t last forever. At Runway, we believe this is where a grant can really make the difference for a family. Erica describes being a recipient of our Family Grant Program as being touched by a “fairy godmother, it is incredible to have an organization step in because your needs do continue on for quite a while and we are so grateful to Runway for this.”

Erica & Dylan 2020

While Erica experienced a Family Grant as someone who lost a mother, Angelo Firenze of Belmont found himself dealing with a different set of circumstances when his wife Cassie passed away from breast cancer in 2019. Much like Paula Malho, Cassie was a wonderful mother. She was funny, witty and smart and immediately put people at ease. 

Cassie, Angelo & Nico

Cassie had stage four breast cancer and despite the prognosis, she had such a light about her. Which probably goes a long way towards explaining why after she was gone, there was an opportunity for uncertainty to creep into the void she left behind.  

In addition to Angelo, Cassie is survived by her young son Nico. To hear them speak about Cassie with such reverence is one thing, but seeing the smiles that cross their faces when they say her name is quite another, because happy is what she made them. 

Cassie, Nico and Angelo

While it’s not easy, time has a way of making things easier to manage. But in the immediate aftermath of Cassie’s passing, Angelo was all at once a grieving husband and the primary caregiver to Nico. The questions came fast and furious, but he found that the answers were slower. 

When asked what he might want other spouses and parents to know about the Family Grant Program, Angelo wanted to emphasize that it is “ok to ask for help” freely admitting that for a long time, this is not the way he was accustomed to thinking. Being able to get to a place where you can say “you know what, I do need help with this” is not an easy thing to do, but putting yourself in a position to receive help by applying for a Runway Grant is one way that you can make the road “just a little bit easier” he says. 

What stands out for Angelo about a Runway Family Grant is the ability to customize it. It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of situation. “You sit down with a Runway social worker and determine what it is that would best help you.” Maybe that’s someone to help with groceries or meal planning, maybe it’s a gym membership, maybe it’s an after-school activity for your child or a house cleaning service. The grants fit into your life “in a way that works for you which is really an incredible service” he explains. 

Nico as a Model Honoring his Mother, Cassie (2019)

We are proud to be able to do this work and we couldn’t do it without your help. Whether that’s through funding, sharing or encouraging a family in need to apply, we thank you for all you do to continue to believe in Runway and the families we support.