"They say that you are born alone (although, as a mother, I would argue that point) and that you leave this world alone. I just want to say that after that initial moment of hearing my diagnosis, I have never felt alone again. I am surrounded by a wonderful husband and children, amazing extended family, the most steadfast of friends and a wonderful network of people who are praying for me all the time. It is truly a humbling experience to know that your existence matters."
Linda Rotondi of West Newbury wrote those words in her online journal one year ago this month. Last fall, Rotondi, the wife of Newburyport lawyer Chuck Rotondi and mother of two daughters, lost her battle with breast cancer — the very disease for which she had worked hard on efforts to support a cure.
For 12 years, Rotondi participated in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk benefiting cancer research and care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Then in October 2006, she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, a rare, aggressive cancer that claimed her life three years later at age 56.
Her family is now working to keep her memory alive through a memorial golf tournament set for late summer called Links for Linda.
As she wrote in her journal, Rotondi's existence mattered to a lot of people and still continues to today.
"We are doing something in her honor and in her memory to raise funds for a cause she worked for every year and ironically died of," Chuck Rotondi said.
The Rotondis met on a blind date more than 30 years ago. A native of Pennsylvania, Linda Rotondi worked as an English teacher in New York before moving east to work as the editor of the Lahey Clinic Medical Journal and later in the office of Newburyport dentist David Reczek. She later went to work for the American Red Cross, retiring as an administrator. Chuck Rotondi joined the Essex County District Attorney's office in 1980 before opening his law practice in Newburyport.
The couple initially lived on Plum Street in Newburyport before moving to West Newbury. They raised two girls, Jessica and Morgan, now 21 and 24.
"She was lovely, beautiful and talented," Chuck Rotondi said of his wife. "She was a gifted writer, and she touched so many people."
Her diagnosis hit hard, and the cancer spread quickly to her lymph nodes, bones, liver and fluid in her brain, her husband said.
The irony that she was dying from the disease she had worked to raise money for was not lost on his wife, Chuck Rotondi said. But she remained positive and upbeat throughout her treatment, he said.
"The survival rate for inflammatory breast cancer is quite less than the three years she had," Chuck Rotondi said. "Even with cancer, she worked for a year, and her three years were quality years. We visited our daughter who was studying abroad in Germany. We had a lovely time."
Barbara Iannazzi, one of Linda Rotondi's best friends, trekked the 26-mile marathon route with her for 12 years as part of the Jimmy Fund Walk. Iannazzi said it was Rotondi who motivated her to participate in the event every year.
"We walked recreationally first and then started doing the (Jimmy Fund) walks," Iannazzi said. "During the 26 miles, we never ran out of things to talk about."
This fall, Iannazzi plans to walk the Boston Marathon route for the Jimmy Fund alone — in her friend's memory.
"She worked so hard, for so many years to make a difference for cancer patients, never thinking she would be one herself," Iannazzi said. "It's so sad; she worked so hard and ironically it wound up being too late."
Iannazzi said Rotondi was a fighter until the end, even having a radiation treatment the Friday before she passed away.
"She never gave up," Iannazzi said. "More than anything, (I'll miss) her thoughtfulness; she never forgot a birthday, and if you did any little thing, she wrote you a thank-you note."
Linda Rotondi would be honored by this summer's tournament, her husband and friend said.
"More than anything, Linda would want people gathered in her memory and name to have a real good time," Chuck Rotondi said. "She would want people to enjoy themselves and raise money to help other people."
Chuck Rotondi said even as the illness clung to his wife, she had a sense of humor.
"She would always find a way to make people laugh," Chuck Rotondi said.
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To see Linda Rotondi's journal, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/lindarotondi/journal.
Links for Linda
The first Linda Rotondi Memorial Golf Tournament takes place Aug. 23 at 11 a.m. at Renaissance Country Club in Haverhill.
Tickets are $200 and include 18 holes of golf with cart, boxed lunch and barbecue dinner with prizes. Play is limited to 36 foursomes. Tickets for the barbecue dinner only are $50. A silent auction will also be held, with proceeds benefiting the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Sponsors as well as volunteers are needed for the event. Contributions in Linda Rotondi's name may also be made to the Newburyport Five Cents Saving Bank.
Contact Chuck Rotondi at 978-462-9393 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more.