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Roberta Lombardi of Madison is a cancer survivor who is dedicated to helping ease the financial burden of other people diagnosed with the disease. She has created a nonprofit organization, Infinite Strength, and is organizing a “pink tie” gala event to raise money for the Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven. (Photo by Susan Talpey/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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Roberta Lombardi is a successful businessperson, a loving wife, and a proud mom. She’s also a cancer survivor. Now, the professional event planner from Madison is busy organizing a “pink tie” gala event to raise money for those still fighting for their lives.
Roberta recently founded Infinite Strength, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping Smilow Cancer Hospital patients with the many out-of-pocket expenses that come with the life-threatening diagnosis, such as paying for hospital parking or wigs and head coverings following chemotherapy.
“Cancer is a disease that affects everybody, and it really is a battle. The costs are staggering, and for some people, it’s a very, very difficult situation. We simply want to make the cancer diagnosis and treatment as easy as possible for those people who don’t have the means to do that for themselves,” Roberta says.
“There are lots of wonderful organizations who are working very hard to find a cure—and we so hope they do—but right now, there are people getting this diagnosis and going through cancer treatment every day. It takes all the strength you have to fight cancer, so we want to help to make that easier.”
The inaugural An Evening in Pink event will be held at the Pine Orchard Yacht and Country Club in Branford on Saturday, May 12.
“It’s going to be a fun and special evening. There will be cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a raw bar by the water, followed by a sit-down dinner and dancing to a five-piece band,” she says.
Roberta’s own cancer journey began in fall 2016, when a simple breast self-examination revealed an unusual lump. Under the care of her local physician, she had a mammogram, sonogram, biopsy—and then a diagnosis. It was a confronting experience for Roberta; her husband of 19 years, Tom; and their three daughters, Ava, Isabella, and Mia.
“In 7 to 10 days, I knew that I had breast cancer—and from that moment, life changes. For me, the diagnosis was hard, and telling our girls was the toughest thing we’ve ever had to do,” she says.
Supported by the staff at Smilow’s Breast Cancer Program in New Haven, Roberta went through surgery and weekly infusions of chemotherapy. The intense side effects of treatment left her exhausted, physically ill, and unable to drive.
“I tried to be as good as possible for the kids, but it was very hard. One of the hardest parts of chemotherapy was losing my hair and my eyelashes and eyebrows. The drugs also made my face bloated, so you are devoid of expression and hardly look like yourself. The medication made me fatigued and depressed. It was a real low point,” she says.
“When you embark on your chemotherapy journey, it’s very hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I completed chemotherapy and the medication left my body, the cloud really lifted, and during my follow up infusion treatments, I really noticed all the other patients at the center and what they were going through.”
After making it through the most challenging year of her life, Roberta was inspired to help people with the same diagnosis but even larger obstacles to overcome.
“My husband came to every chemotherapy infusion and was able to be at home with our children. I didn’t have to hold down a job while I was in treatment or put my kids in childcare to go to appointments. I didn’t have the stress of worrying about feeding my family when I needed to be healing. There are people who don’t have someone who can support them at treatment or who can take the kids to school when you’re too sick to get out of bed,” she says.
“I was private about my cancer and just told my closest friends, but when I came through it, I knew I needed to give back.
Since Roberta received the official all-clear from cancer, Smilow now offers a new treatment called Paxman Scalp Cooling, a technology that freezes hair follicles during chemotherapy and reduces treatment-induced hair loss. Roberta met with British creator Richard Paxman and learned that while effective and available, the $3,000 procedure is not currently covered by insurance in the U.S., like it is in Europe.
“I know personally that if I had been able to keep my hair, the whole experience would have been less stressful. I lost a great deal of my self-esteem, and now other people don’t need to go through that,” she says.
With strong support from oncologist Dr. Sarah Mougalian, Paxman, and the team at Smilow, Roberta says that establishing Infinite Strength has given her “a new purpose in life.”
“All money raised will go to the Smilow Breast Center with half going to create a fund for basic financial needs of their patients such as parking tickets or new things they need like head coverings, wigs, or mastectomy bras. The other half of the money will pay for Cool Scalp treatments for their patients,” she says.
Roberta grew up in upstate New York and lived in Denver, Colorado and Kansas City, Missouri before moving back to the east coast. For 25 years, she forged a successful career in event planning, including traveling the country organizing upscale events for top-tier clients at large corporations such as Sprint.
With the birth of their first daughter, Roberta became a stay-at-home mother and the Lombardis made a move to Madison. In 2009, she established her own culinary business called Elegant Occasions, making gourmet cupcakes, hosting cooking lessons, and presenting an online cooking show filmed in her own kitchen.
“Who wouldn’t want to live on the shoreline?” she says. “There was just something special about Madison. We loved the beach, the little shops, and the schools. We’d always say that Madison is a great family town that’s safe and friendly. It’s picturesque, like a postcard.”
While Roberta’s own physical battle with cancer may be over, the experience will stay with her.
“My progressive is good. I had a very aggressive cancer that was discovered fairly early. That’s why self-examinations are so important. Now I’m back and I feel better than ever, but when I was in it, I wondered if I’d ever feel the same,” she says.
“Cancer changes you and it teaches you a lot. It gave me the gift of a great appreciation for life and the freedom not to sweat the small things. I am so lucky in so many ways, and I just want to give back.”
Infinite Strength presents An Evening in Pink at the Pine Orchard Yacht and Country Club, 2 Parkway, Branford on Saturday, May 12 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $200 and all proceeds benefit the Smilow Breast Center in New Haven. Sponsors and donations are welcome. For more information and tickets, email email@example.com.
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