YORKTOWN — Jenna Ritornato says her cousin Thomas didn’t lose his battle to cancer “because to lose, you need to quit and he never quit.”
In an essay about the painful experience of watching her cousin and best friend die from brain cancer, Ritornato wrote that Thomas not only endured the suffering of a terminal disease, but he did it gracefully and bravely.
Ritornato, a cosmetology student at Putnam and Northern Westchester BOCES, recalled in her essay how Thomas fought the side effects of chemotherapy and the mocking of schoolmates who picked on him for being bald and frail.
She wrote he “always turned the other cheek, concentrated on school and soccer, and his friends.”
Ritornato’s essay won third place in a competition sponsored by Gilda’s Club of Westchester, a support group for families affected by cancer formed in the memory comedian Gilda Radner.
A senior at Hendrick Hudson High School who plans to attend Dutchess Community College in the Fall, Ritornato will be honored with other essay winners at Gilda’s Club in White Plains on May 7.
“Although Thomas’s time here with us was much too short, he taught me unconditional love, strength, hope and so much more,” she wrote in her essay.