Shining a light on cancer victims

Susan Satriano Foundation awards scholarships to Oceanside students


Oceanside High School’s Awards Night, on June 6, celebrated seniors who were presented with scholarships and awards, including the Susan Satriano Memorial Scholarship, which helps support students who have family members with cancer. The ceremony was followed by the Walk of Lights last Saturday, which had been postponed since October.

Joe Satriano, the driving force behind the Susan Satriano Memorial Scholarship Foundation, gave a speech that resonated deeply with students, parents and educators alike. The Oceanside resident has devoted his life to honoring the memory of his wife, Susan, who lost her 13-year-long fight against breast cancer in 2005. The couple had been married for 29 years when Susan died at age 53, despite having been in remission for five years.

While paying tribute to her, Joe has helped hundreds of students through the foundation, which has held a walk or a Beatles tribute concert by the band Strawberry Fields every year since 2011.

Ten seniors received Satriano scholarships, including Emma Cuffone and Claudia Gallagher, whose stories underscore the profound impact the foundation has made. Cuffone lost her mother to breast cancer when she only 8, and she described meeting Joe Satriano as a touching experience, especially because they had both lost loved ones to breast cancer.

“I was obviously very young, but it continues to affect me greatly to this day,” Cuffone said. “Having Joe there, as somebody who deals with students like this all the time, was great. It’s really nice to know you have somebody who understands the situation, because it doesn’t get easier.”

Cuffone has been involved in a number of activities at the high school. She is president of the Book Club, runs social media for the Model United Nations, and is vice president of the Robotics Club. She will attend the University of Vermont in the fall, to study civil engineering.

Inspired by her mother, who worked for a nonprofit, Cuffone aims to do so as well — one like Habitat for Humanity or Engineers Without Borders. She hopes to use her engineering knowledge to build better communities around the world.

“A lot of what I do has to do with her,” Emma said of her mother. “My goals to work in a nonprofit are very largely inspired by her. I always try to keep her in mind with my goals for the future.” The Walk of Lights was the first breast cancer walk Cuffone attended.

Gallagher’s story is equally compelling. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

“I had a feeling like something was wrong, because she was constantly on the phone and always at the doctor,” Gallagher recalled. “She told me and my brother that she was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer, and I was unsure what this meant. I know that’s not such a high stage, but you hear the word cancer and your mind can go all different places.”

Gallagher said that her mother was faring well, and had made significant lifestyle changes since her diagnosis, including healthier eating habits and avoiding certain chemicals — all of which has influenced Claudia’s lifestyle as well.

She played soccer for three years in high school, and has been involved in the Oceanside Soccer Club since childhood. She was also active in a variety of extracurriculars, including the Key Club and the TALAT (take a look at teaching) Club, which focuses on aspiring teachers. Gallagher will head to SUNY Cortland in September, where she plans to major in inclusive childhood education, with the aim of becoming certified to teach both special education and general education.

“He told me a little bit about his story, and his story made me more interested in everything that he went through, and how it relates to everything that I went through,” Gallagher said of Satriano. “I felt very touched by his story.”

The Susan Satriano Foundation has come a long way since its inception, and this year offered scholarships to 190 students from across the country, including 132 from Long Island. Before arriving at Awards Night, Satriano presented scholarships at high schools in Smithtown, Copiague and Seaford, and was scheduled to wrap up his awards assemblies for the year this week at Southside High School, in Rockville Center, East Meadow High School and RFK Community High School, in Flushing, Queens.

“It’s been a great season,” he said. “I love this stuff. I really do.”

While the scholarship season comes to an end, Satriano’s efforts continue throughout the year, with plans to organize book talks at libraries and potentially arrange another Strawberry Fields concert for the foundation in 2025. Saturday’s Walk of Lights was another resounding success, bringing the community together in a show of solidarity and support for those affected by cancer.

Satriano said that it captured the essence of the foundation’s mission: to light the path to a brighter future for the honored students,and the fight against cancer.

“The truth is that, to me, all I’m doing is the right thing,” he said. “That’s all I’m doing.”