Person of the Week
Jamie Torello: Fundraising for Cancer in Mom’s Memory
A cancer survivor herself, Jamie Torello has focused her energies on fundraising for a cure following the loss of her mom to the disease last summer. She’s also discovered a flair for crafting unique wreaths. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Torello )
Not a day goes by in which East Haven native Jamie Torello doesn’t think about her mom, who passed in July of last year from lung cancer. That love for family prompted Jamie to begin fundraising to help in the fight against cancer, and in the process, she raised more than $6,000 in her first sponsored walk while also installing a memorial bench at the East Haven Town Beach for others to enjoy.
It all began when Jamie herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2018. While fighting her own battle toward remission, Jamie’s mom, Sharon Torello, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer just six month later.
“I went through all the treatments: chemo and radiation,” Jamie says of her medical ordeal, which allowed her to become a champion for her mom at the same time. “I learned the ropes of what it was like to be a patient, and what a patient needs to get though something so tragic, as far as [things go] mentally and physically.”
Jamie felt that through her own experience with cancer she was fully prepared to act as a caregiver, giving forth the physical and mental support her mother needed. Upon the passing of her mom—at the young age of 64—Jamie’s resolve to help others began to manifest. The first thing she did was start fundraising to have a professional-grade, eight-foot bench installed at the town beach.
“My mom loved the East Haven Town Beach,” Jamie recalls. “She would go there often, and she also did yoga on the beach. She was cremated, so instead of a headstone we installed the bench in her honor, right in the spot where she did yoga.”
Jamie admits that her first foray into fundraising and installing the bench was not an easy task.
“We had to go through some hoops to have it done properly, and get it placed where we wanted it,” she says. “We got family and friends to put money together and bought the bench,” and with the tremendous help of Mayor Joseph Carfora and his administrative assistant Tina Hedley, Jamie says the installation of the bench went smoothly.
“We go there almost every day now to visit [the bench] with nieces and nephews and clean it,” Jamie says. “And it’s a great way to honor [my mom] and remember her at a place that she loved. There’s also a butterfly bush next to the bench that we planted,” which Jamie says echoes the funeral service conducted for her mom where the family released monarch butterflies.
“It’s another way to remember my mom when butterflies come to the bush right next to the bench. Every time we go there, someone is sitting there,” she says. “The bench has a great view of the water.”
The next project Jamie took on was looking for sponsors for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Foundation walk, which took place at Lighthouse Point in New Haven in October 2019. Jamie and her husband Derek Jones (who is also an East Haven native and television writer and producer in New York) joined other cancer survivors who had been doing the fundraiser walk for 10 years or more.
“We [had] 53 members on Team Torello, and we ended up being the top fundraising team last year,” Jamie says of the more than $6,000 in donations her team raised. “I couldn’t believe we beat out all the people who had been doing [the walk] for years.”
Jamie hopes to do the cancer walk every year and to gather family and friends together to support each walk.
“When we walked, I was in the center and everyone was surrounding me, and that’s kind of how I felt after my diagnosis. I had so many people helping me out,” Jamie says.
If that weren’t enough, Jamie added a third element to her cancer awareness fundraising, this time as an expression of her creativity in the making of wreaths that she sells.
“It kind of bloomed out of nowhere after making a wreath for our house,” she says. “I took a picture and put it on Facebook and it snowballed from there. Friends and family have been asking me to make custom wreaths for them. I love creating them because each one is different. I also place a butterfly on each wreath as a way to honor my mom, because she’s where I get my artistic ability from. She was a phenomenal hair stylist and had a flair for home décor. When I make each wreath, I know she is with me.”
Jamie is now making so many wreaths—to keep up with requests—her husband Derek calls her “Wreath Witherspoon” she says with a joyous laugh— “It’s a positive way to work through my grief.”
With more than 30 wreaths made to date, Jamie is now in the process of opening a shop on the e-commerce craft site, Etsy. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each wreath goes to helping fund an organization dedicated to fighting cancer.
After all that Jamie has already done to help fund the fight against cancer—while overcoming her own obstacles—she looks back at her journey with thoughts and hopes toward others.
“As a cancer survivor you have to take it day-by-day and not look at the whole picture as far as treatments go and any plans you make. It’s very overwhelming,” she says. “You get through one day at a time and prayer always helped me, as well as encouragement from family, friends, and my husband. Being positive is a great way to get through and move forward.”
To sponsor one of Jamie’s cancer walks in the future or purchase one of her wreaths, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.