Special Feature – The St. Agatha Foundation: Breast cancer victim leaves a lasting legacy

By Norah Machia

Kathy Mezzalingua remembers accompanying her late daughter, Laurie, a breast cancer patient, to one of her first chemotherapy appointments.

As they waited to be called into a room for treatment, Laurie overheard another patient discussing how she was struggling to pay for her chemotherapy treatments and at the same time, cover her household expenses, including her groceries.

After that, Laurie became very aware of other breast cancer patients and their needs,” said her mother. Her daughter, who displayed incredible strength and resilience after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 29, decided to channel her energy into helping others who were suffering financially because of their breast cancer diagnosis.

During her 12-year battle with breast cancer, Laurie’s tremendous sense of compassion and spirit of giving was reflected in her many fund-raising efforts. For six years, she was a board member of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and served as president for two years. In 2005, she was honored with the national Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Outstanding Volunteer Award.

But Laurie wanted to do even more to help breast cancer patients in the Central New York region who lacked financial resources to pay for their care. “She wanted people to have the ability to focus on their treatments, not their bills,” her mother explained.

A native of Manlius, Laurie graduated from Manlius Pebble Hill in 1986 and Boston University in 1990, where she had a double major in communications and Chinese history.

After graduation, Laurie worked as an editor’s assistant at Random House in New York City. She later returned to Central New York, and took on various roles in the family’s business, PPC, a manufacturer of cable and wireless device connectors.

Laurie became the founding president of Kajola Kristada, a subsidiary of the manufacturing company based on the island of St. Kitts. Before her breast cancer diagnosis, she already displayed a special gift for helping others, by working with her family to start building a new school on the island for students in kindergarten through 11th grade, and to offer tuition assistance to low-income families.

So it was no surprise to Laurie’s family and others who knew her well that she decided to establish her own foundation to help breast cancer patients pay for their treatments and other expenses.

In 2004, Laurie established the Saint Agatha Foundation to provide support, comfort and care to breast cancer patients through financial assistance programs. The St. Agatha Foundation partners with local hospitals and agencies to financially support breast cancer patients in Onondaga, Cortland, Cayuga, Madison, Oneida, Oswego and Jefferson counties.

Laurie was remarkable,” said her mother. “She managed to turn her diagnosis into a good thing by helping others.” While the St. Agatha Foundation assists patients with the medical costs of breast cancer treatment, it also provides support for non-medical expenses such as childcare, groceries and gas, said Kathy.

The foundation was named after Saint Agatha, the patron saint of breast diseases, and Laurie’s mission was to help “those who cannot afford their illness.” The St. Agatha Foundation is established with the National Philanthropic Trust in Pennsylvania, but focuses on the Central New York region, partnering with local hospitals and agencies to provide financial support to breast cancer patients.

Her mother took over as president of the foundation after Laurie died in 2009 at the age of 41. Laurie left her estate to the St. Agatha Foundation, and her parents have made significant financial contributions to support their daughter’s vision.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in New York State, and each year more than 15,000 women are diagnosed and nearly 2,600 pass away from the disease, according to the St. Agatha Foundation. Approximately 150 men are also diagnosed with breast cancer yearly in New York State. “The economic impact to breast cancer patients and their families can be devastating,” according to the organization.

In 2021, the Saint Agatha Foundation assisted more than 640 patients and their families by providing grants to hospitals and organizations in seven counties. During the past decade, the foundation has provided financial assistance to more than 7,035 breast cancer patients through more than $13.5 million in grants to local hospitals and partner organizations.

For more information: www.saintagathafoundation.org