When my mother passed away from a brain aneurysm in her sleep 20 years ago, it was quite a shock. After all, she was only a few days past her 50th birthday and she had the zest of a teenager. She was also the glue that held my dysfunctional family together and somehow managed to keep the whirlwind of perpetual conflict from evolving into the type of disastrous tornado that leaves everything in its path broken and destroyed. Needless to say, her sudden and unexpected passing left a very large void in all of our lives. I’d like to be able to say I handled it well, but the truth is, I didn’t. I was already a rebellious kid with a huge chip on my shoulder, but her death turned me into a complete bastard. I became angry at the world, and instantly developed a very short fuse and total lack of patience with everyone and everything around me for quite some time. Life had already dealt me some really lousy cards, but I never allowed anything to get to me. Everything always just rolled right off. Her death, however, got to me. For the first time in my life, something made it through the seemingly impenetrable armor. I remember being very angry with God and not understanding how he could take away the one person in my life who knew me and loved me more than anyone else ever could. It took me a very long time to accept it and see the good side of it. How she passed quietly, peacefully, and painlessly. It wouldn’t be until 18 years later that I would truly appreciate exactly how significant that was.
My oldest sister was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. Much like myself, she was dealt some pretty lousy cards, and somehow managed to never show any signs of weakness. After my mother had passed, she gradually filled her void as well as anyone possibly could have. She became very motherly to both me and my younger brother, and much like my mother, she also became the glue that held our dysfunctional family together for the next 18 years. Every year on Christmas Eve we held Christmas as a family at her house, and for that one night each year, we actually resembled a functional loving family. It was something that was always very important to my mother, and my sister stepped right in and carried on that tradition for nearly two more decades. In August of 2010, we found out she had severe cancer in her lungs. The doctors told her that it was so severe she was going to have to endure very aggressive treatments for a few months before they could even attempt to remove it, and that the impending surgery was going to be VERY dangerous because they were going to attempt to remove up to 80% of one of her lungs. This was the type of surgery that many people don’t survive through, so the months leading up to it were filled with enormous amounts of silent trepidation for myself and my family. I say silent, because she was so strong through it all, never once complaining about the relentlessly brutal treatments she had to endure, that none of us wanted to show her how afraid we were for her. Making matters worse, the surgery was scheduled for the week of Christmas, so for the first time in our lives we all not only knew we wouldn’t be sticking to our family tradition of spending Christmas Eve together, but also knew that there was a distinct possibility that we’d spent our last Christmas with her the previous year if she wasn’t able to survive the surgery. We all did our best to remain positive and suppress that thought and fear, but in the back of our minds, we had to prepare ourselves for the possibility.
On the the morning of her surgery, I remember feeling more anxious than I’d ever felt in my entire life. I’ve always been a man of solutions. No matter how badly something was screwed up, I always felt like I could fix it. Reality gave me a huge slap in the face when my mother passed away because it was the first time I realized that wasn’t the case. You can’t fix death, it’s final. Once again, I had to face the disturbing truth that there was something else I couldn’t fix… cancer. No amount of effort, determination, or inner magic could fix the amount of pain she had to endure, take away the cancer in her body, or ensure that she would survive her surgery. I spent hours and hours rotating between pacing the floor and dropping to my knees to pray to whoever could hear me to please let her be okay while I repeatedly stared at the phone as if I could somehow will it into ringing with good news. After what seemed like days, that phone finally rang. 17 years earlier when my father called me, there was a distinct shakiness to his voice that I’d never heard before. He was a very stoic man who never revealed any emotions openly, so just the shakiness in his voice when he said that one single word, my name, instantly told me that something was severely wrong. This time, when my brother in law said my name, there was a total absence of shakiness. After hours and hours of trepidation, that very first “Jamie?” when I answered the phone was like opening the flood gates and allowing every difficult emotion that was stirring inside of me to escape, as if I’d just been rescued from the depths of hell. I instantly knew she was okay and he hadn’t even said anything yet. Sure enough, he told me the surgery was a success, that she had beaten cancer, and that she was perfectly fine resting in her hospital bed. I can’t even begin to put into words the level of relief I felt at that very moment. With Christmas just a few days away, the Gods had given me the best early Christmas present I could ever pray for.
Christmas Eve night was a little strange because it was the first time in my life I hadn’t spent it with my entire family, either with my mother, or at my sister’s house. However, I was still riding the enormous high of knowing my sister had beaten cancer, so that superseded the oddity of not spending it with my family. I got up on Christmas morning and spent Christmas alone at home with my son, and it was a very peaceful feeling. The phone rang, and when I looked at the readout I could see it was my brother in law. He was at the hospital with my sister, so I was looking forward to the call because I’d get to talk to my sister. I answered the phone with such enthusiasm, but that enthusiasm quickly turned sour, as once again, I heard the shakiness in that one single word. “Jamie?” I instantly knew something was drastically wrong. He began to speak, and 6 words later my heart fell right out of my chest. Those 6 words? “The cancer spread to her brain.” I dropped the phone, dropped to my knees, and completely broke down. If there was a polar opposite to the high I’d been riding for the previous couple days, I surpassed it by 3 or 4 galaxies at that very moment.
2011 was the most difficult year of my life. Many people believe that knowing in advance is better than losing someone suddenly, because you get to spend more time with them and tell them all the things you’d inevitably wish you could’ve said. However, after watching that horrible disease slowly break my sister down into a shell of herself throughout 2011, I’m not one of them. As I alluded to at the beginning of this article, it took 18 years for it to truly sink in how significant it was for my mother to pass away quietly, peacefully, and painlessly, despite the suddenness of it. For a year straight, I watched cancer just eat away at the strongest woman I’ve ever known until there was nothing left of her. It even paralyzed her from the waist down towards the end of the year, and shrunk her down into a completely broken and fragile version of the woman I always knew her to be. It was easily the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through just WATCHING it, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Throughout it all though, she never once complained. Never once showed any fear. Never once admitted defeat or even weakness. Never once even mentioned the word pain. She was amazing. I spent the greater part of that year in denial. I kept forcing it out of my head that she would be gone soon. I had to. When a woman that strong goes through that much without ever once complaining or showing ANY signs of mental weakness, the last thing you want to do is hurt her by allowing her to see YOU so hurt. She continued on as if nothing was wrong, and by way of denial, I did as well. She was so strong that she willed herself to make it to one more Christmas. It was such a symbolic holiday in our family, and she wasn’t going to allow cancer to take away her chance to spend one more with all of us. By this time she’d become relegated to a hospital bed in the middle of her living room, and she was so weak she couldn’t even lift her head, but she was mentally strong enough to fight it off enough to remain cognizant for the majority of the day and evening. I sat at her bedside and held her hand, but I still didn’t want her to see how hurt I was, so I could only last about 15 minutes at a time before I had to keep making excuses to leave the room. I have to go make a phone call… I have to go to the bathroom… I need a beer… I forgot some of the gifts in my car… it snowed a little, I’m going to go shovel your walkway, etc. I kept saying whatever I could think of to allow me to leave the room, and then I’d go somewhere private to cry and try to pull myself together before returning. It was bad enough she had to go through what she did, I just didn’t want to hurt her by allowing her to see how much it hurt me. I didn’t want her last days and moments in this life to be spent seeing how much “she” hurt the people she loved. She married her long time boyfriend, Nick, on New Year’s Eve a few years earlier, so she willed herself through a very symbolic Christmas, and then made it through the New Year to celebrate one last anniversary as well, before finally succumbing on January 7th, 2012.
She spent the majority of her adult life coaching kids and running her own cheerleading company, and in the process won countless National Championships in numerous age groups. More importantly though, she touched the lives of so many young people throughout those years, something you can read about in the attached Syracuse.com article written about her (below) at the time of her death. I wanted to carry on that tradition and legacy for her, so I created Comedians for Cancer in her honor, and directed it primarily towards children suffering through the disease. If I can touch the lives of even a fraction of the people she did with Comedians for Cancer, I’ll consider myself remarkably lucky. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the loss of a loved one. It was 20 years this past August that I lost my mother and I still haven’t fully accepted that, so I certainly haven’t fully accepted that my sister is gone now too in a little under 3 years. It still feels like I can just jump in my car and go visit her at any given moment, and I’ve even caught myself turning down her street when I’m passing by on numerous occasions out of habit, only to realize that she’s not going to be there. I take a lot of solace in refusing to believe that I’ll never see her again. I have myself convinced that her and my mother are together somewhere in a place I’ll eventually find myself as well, and that they’re both still able to see me and my son.
Below is the Syracuse.com article written by Sarah Moses that gives you a brief idea of just how influential and inspiring she was to those around her, followed by a couple videos I made for her. The first I sent to her while she was in the thick of her battle, the second I put on her Facebook page after she died, which is still open as a memorial for all the people whose lives she touched, myself included.
North Syracuse, NY — Despite undergoing aggressive cancer treatments and being in a wheelchair, Myrle Capria-Curro made it to every cheer practice and competition to watch her students.
“Her whole life was dedicated to those kids,” said her husband Nick Curro. “She loved them like they were her own children.”
Capria-Curro, who has coached cheerleading for hundreds of Central New York girls and boys, lost her battle with cancer Saturday. She was 46. “Her passion was cheerleading and the kids were her family,” her husband said. “She was living her dream until the day she died.”
Capria-Curro coached for Onondaga Central, Bishop Ludden and Pop Warner teams, including the Mattydale Vikings, Eastwood Bears and Clay Panthers. In 1999, her dream of owning her own cheer company became a reality when she opened New Generation Cheer Elite All Stars in Syracuse.
In 2009, she created Powers Unite the Fury, which partnered with Core Athletix in North Syracuse in 2011 because she was ill. “She didn’t want the gym to close,” said her stepdaughter Nicole Curro-Devel.
Capria-Curro was diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2010 and underwent surgery in December 2010. A few days after surgery she learned the cancer had spread to her brain. Capria-Curro started using a wheelchair in November 2011 after the cancer paralyzed her from the waist down.
“Despite it all, she didn’t miss a single practice or competition until Christmas,” Curro-Devel said. “That’s how dedicated she was to the kids.” On average, Capria-Curro coached about 75 students at the gym each season. Boys and girls of all ages participated on cheer squads and in hip-hop dance groups. “She was like a mother to me,” said Mariah Goldsmith, 19. “She’s always been there for me and was the best coach I’ve ever had. No one could ever fill her shoes.”
Goldsmith has cheered for Capria-Curro for more than 13 years. She said Coach Myrle, as she was more commonly called, taught her everything she knows about cheerleading. Goldsmith is currently a coach herself for the Eastwood Bears. Nick Curro, who also coaches for Core Athletix, said his wife has won many honors over the years, including in 2005 when she was named one of the top five coaches of the year in the nation by the United Performing Association. The teams she coached also won several state and national competitions over the years.
“Winning wasn’t the most important thing,” said Kayla Champagne. “The most important thing was that we had fun in a family environment. She was always proud of us.” Champagne, 18, cheered for Capria-Curro for eight years. “She was always there for me,” Champagne said. “She gave me a second family and a home-away-from home. She would do anything for us.”
Goldsmith said it will be hard to go on cheering without Coach Myrle. “But I know she’ll always be there with us in spirit,” she said.
In Loving Memory Of
April 22, 1965 – January 7th, 2012