Oceanside resident Joe Satriano has dedicated his life to honoring the memory of his wife, Susan, who lost her 13-year battle against breast cancer in 2005.
He has paid homage to her while helping hundreds of students through the Susan Satriano Memorial Scholarship Foundation, which will hold the Walk of Lights cancer walk at Oceanside High School on Oct. 14, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
The couple had been married for 29 years when she died at 53 from the disease, despite a five-year remission.
Satriano decided that one of the best ways he could honor his wife’s memory was by creating the scholarship foundation in Oceanside. Six months after her death, starting in 2006, Satriano used the foundation to award $1,000 scholarships to four graduating Oceanside High School seniors. The lone requirement is that the recipient be a child of a parent who has died from cancer or is currently battling the disease. Students who meet the criteria are eligible to receive the scholarship, and Satriano speaks with each student for 30 minutes either in person or virtually.
The walk–a-thon last took place at the high school in 2011 and Satriano got inspiration for the walk from the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
During the Oct. 14 walk, individuals will celebrate cancer survivors on the high school’s track, while also remembering and honoring those who lost their battle with cancer. The event will also feature music, food from the Oceanside PTA and 50/50 raffles. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will open the walk and people will be able to purchase luminary bags in pink, representing someone who has died from cancer, or in gold, for someone battling cancer or in remission.
Participants will share emotional moments during the ceremony, where bags filled with lights will be decorated with the name of an individual who lost their cancer battle.
Satriano recalled how emotional the walk was the last time he organized one at the high school.
“There was a kid who must have been in elementary school,” Satriano recalled. “His father died of cancer. He put the bag down on the side of the track, and he just knelt there for about five minutes staring at it. I don’t care how young he was. He knew what this was all about, and it really touched me to see this.”
The Satrianos both were math teachers in the Roslyn School District. After her breast cancer diagnosis, Satriano retired four years early so he could spend more time with his wife. He wrote a memoir documenting his life with her, called “In Sickness and in Health.” The last chapter, entitled “The Final Page in the Photo Album,” took him three months to write.
“With cancer, even though you could live your life and try to have fun, it’s brutal,” he said. “The reality of it is that if you’re lucky enough, you can eradicate it from your body. If you’re not as lucky, you learned to live with it. If you’re very unlucky, you die from it, and Sue was the unlucky one.
“If you talked to any of her friends, you would never have known she had cancer,” he added. “She was always upbeat and positive. She was my hero, to be very honest and inspiring. I don’t know how she did it.”
The foundation now stretches across 37 states and has received support from 70 school districts on Long Island. Through donations, Satriano’s foundation has doled out more than $1 million in scholarships to more than 3,000 students. Satriano gave out 201 scholarships across the nation last year and spoke at schools in California, Texas, Montana and Florida. He will have in-person visits at schools in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and upstate New York, but mostly he will speak to students in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Satriano’s son, Matt, was valedictorian at Oceanside High School and is a professor of mathematics at the University of Waterloo in Canada. His other son, Justin, graduated eighth in his class in Oceanside and now works for Amazon, where he programs the Alexa.
“Sue’s the inspiration for why I started the foundation, and my kids are the inspiration as to why I choose to help these particular kids,” Satriano said. “I saw Sue and saw what it did to our two boys, to watch their mom’s 13-year demise. As a teacher, from my side of the desk, all you see are grades dropping. We don’t know what’s going on at home. Many of them don’t tell you, and these kids are dealing with such heavy problems with a parent who is dealing with this cancer. It takes a toll, and they never get noticed.”
Satriano, 71, said that he has a commitment from his sons to continue the foundation when he is no longer around and to be able to help so many kids in Susan Satriano’s memory.
“Do I wish I didn’t have to do this, and I could still be teaching, yes, but honoring Sue is very important to me,” he said. “The bottom line is I found a new way to help kids without being in front of a classroom. It’s a win-win for not only me, but it’s for the kids too. I’ll keep doing this as long as I can.”