A Breast Cancer Survivor: Suffolk University Professor Norine Bacigalupo Beats the Odds

10/7/2002

Norine Bacigalupo has always been afraid of the "C-word."

"My father would talk about 'cancer' all the time," said Bacigalupo. "He called it 'The Big C.' He would say that once you get it, you're all done."

Her grandfather died of liver cancer. Her father also died of liver cancer on his 25th wedding anniversary. She lost two uncles and an aunt to cancer. Her older sister and best friend, Barbara McCormick, passed away from breast cancer 16 years ago at the tender age of 38. They shared the same room as children and were as close as two sisters could be as adults.

"It seems that all my life I've been surrounded by cancer," she said.

Bacigalupo, an adjunct professor in the communication and journalism department at Suffolk University, knows what it's like to struggle with her biggest fear. A little over a year ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, her worst nightmare suddenly becoming a reality.

She was in her office at Suffolk between classes when her physician called with the bad news. It was shortly before noon when she hung up the telephone and started to pray. After talking with family members, friends and co-workers, she felt better. She then began preparing for her 5:00 p.m. "Environmental Public Relations" course.

"For some reason, I felt a strange sense of inner calm and strength," said Bacigalupo, who lives in Tewksbury with Walter, her husband of 27 years. "I knew other people who had it, but now it was my turn."

Following two surgeries and receiving radiation treatments five days a week for eight consecutive weeks at the Saints Memorial Medical Center in Lowell, Bacigalupo, 53, has made a remarkable recovery. She has been a "cancer survivor" since the end of January.

"I'm convinced that the number one reason why everything worked out for me was because of Barbara," said Bacigalupo, a 1970 Suffolk University magna cum laude graduate. "She gave me the strength and support to get through this whole situation."

She also credits the Suffolk University community for helping to turn her scary tale into a success story. "The support, concern and interest I received from students, faculty, administrators and staff was unbelievable," said Bacigalupo, who remembers receiving enough flowers, teddy bears and pictures of Boston Red Sox star Nomar Garciaparra (she is a huge fan) to open up her own gift shop. "This is why I love teaching at Suffolk - people really care about you and appreciate you for who you are."

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 200,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Another 40,000 women are expected to die from the disease.

During their last conversation, Barbara told her sister that when her health improved she wanted to help other women suffering from breast cancer. Determined to see her sister's wish come true, Bacigalupo recently helped to organize the Suffolk University Women's Health Partnership. The group's first event, held in early October as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consisted of a seminar and reception on campus. It also involved a walk to the State House, where 135 biodegradable pink balloons were released as a sign of support for the 135 Massachusetts women diagnosed with breast cancer during the first week of October.

"This was my way to carry out Barbara's wish to help others," said Bacigalupo. "I know she is still over my right shoulder, watching out for me like a guardian angel."

Barbara and her husband, Charlie, were New England Patriots' season-ticket holders for many years. They went to New Orleans in 1986 to cheer on the Patriots during the team's first Super Bowl appearance, a convincing loss to the Chicago Bears. Barbara passed away less than two weeks later. "That's why when the Patriots won the Super Bowl this year, I looked up and gave Barbara a high five," said Bacigalupo. "Ironically enough, Barbara died on February 5th at noontime, the same date and time that the Patriots held their celebration at City Hall Plaza. This was also Super Bowl XXXVI, the same age I was when Barbara died."

Today, Bacigalupo, whom her doctor calls "a fighter," is determined to overcome any challenge that gets in her way. She has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for the past 10 years, but that hasn't stopped her from living her life to the fullest. Having witnessed so much family grief through cancer, in addition to battling the horrific disease herself, has made Bacigalupo a tougher and wiser person.

She is now not afraid of anyone or anything. Not even the C-word.

For more information, please contact:
Tony Ferullo at 617-573-8448

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