This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 edition of Promise magazine.
How can you endure the grief of losing your 27-year-old son and namesake to cancer?
For Stephen A. Comunale, the answer was helping others struggling because of a cancer diagnosis. The foundation he established for that purpose, the Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. Family Cancer Foundation, honors the son he and his late wife, Jane, lost to cancer in 2006.
“We were all in a fog after Stephen died,” said Monica Comunale Stevens, aunt to Stephen Jr. and executive director of the Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. Family Cancer Foundation, “but we had seen clearly how cancer could throw a family into chaos.
“We knew we wanted to provide financial assistance, especially for patients and caregivers who were unable to work and struggling with the cost of treatment.”
Rennick Andreoli, a lifelong friend of Steve and godfather to his late son, is a founding trustee of the Comunale Foundation. Rennick is president and CEO of RDA Hotel Management Company and chairs the campaign for Summa Health, “Caring for You … Then, Now, Always.”
“I have known the Comunale family my entire life,” Rennick said. “Steve introduced me to Dee, my wife of 45 years. The joys and sorrows of the Comunales are ours, too. I have great admiration for Steve and Monica. They turned a terrible tragedy into a source of hope and healing.”
Rennick, Monica and Steve, officers of the Comunale Foundation, are among the closest friends and benefactors of Summa Health. Under their guidance, the Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. Family Cancer Foundation has eased the cancer journey for hundreds of local families at Summa Health and beyond, providing more than $2.3 million in assistance since 2006.
The Comunale Foundation’s support for the Summa Screens program has helped Summa Health provide free breast imaging services to uninsured and underinsured patients for years, including education on breast self-examination. Spirit-lifting support has included gift cards, gasoline cards and grocery cards, as well as direct relief for mortgage payments, utility bills, home repairs and rent.
Other programs and services supported by the Comunale Foundation aim to alleviate the physical hardships and emotional distress of cancer treatment. Among these are the wig salon, wig fittings and wig care supplies; physical and massage therapies and acupuncture; nutrition counseling; support groups and more. In April 2019, the Comunale Foundation made a major commitment to Summa Health to help design and create a larger space in a better location for expanded cancer support services on the Barberton Campus.
While in the early days of planning how to provide all this assistance — and only a month after Stephen Jr.’s death — Amy Comunale, sister to Steve and Monica and youngest of the nine Comunale siblings, was diagnosed with cancer. She died at age 45 on January 20, 2007, leaving behind two daughters, ages 11 and 13.
Then, in 2011, Steve’s wife, Jane, died from cancer.
“Jane’s death certainly challenged our capacity to be tested,” said Monica, who soldiered on with Steve and Rennick, all three strengthened in their resolve to help others.
“I understand how devastating cancer can be,” said Steve, who is a member of Summa Health’s Board of Directors. “Through our programs, as well as evolving products and services, we will do more to provide the financial, emotional and mental relief needed by those navigating cancer — today, tomorrow and always.”
True to his promise, Steve’s recent gift of $1 million to Summa Health in memory of Jane will help Summa Health provide the highest quality, compassionate care for cancer patients and all patients for generations to come.
Where does such expansive generosity originate after such loss? Love of family and community are at the heart of it. As an individual, volunteer leader at Summa Health, business owner and through his family foundation, Steve Comunale, with the full support of Monica, Rennick and the Comunale Foundation board, transformed the loss of Stephen, Jr., Amy and Jane into a life-giving family legacy.