Dayton man to walk for cancer-stricken brother

Vito Ruggiero will participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fund-raising marathon for his younger brother, Jack.

By: Nick D’Amore
   Brotherly love runs deep.
   It also will be running a 26.2-mile marathon in June when Vito Ruggiero heads to Alaska to participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fund-raising marathon for his younger brother Jack Ruggiero, who was diagnosed with lymphoma last year.
   The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society takes part in marathons around the world to help raise money to help victims of cancer. On June 22, Jack Ruggiero; his wife, Mary Beth; their twins Victoria and James, their niece Amy and Vito Ruggiero will go to Alaska to participate in the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage.
   Vito Ruggiero, a Dayton resident, along with the rest of Jack’s family will be walking the marathon to raise money for the society. But also, the marathon will mark the culmination of a change in Vito Ruggiero’s own health habits, spurred on in part by his brother.
   "It’s not only to raise money for research, but it also could be a life-changing situation for those involved," said Vito Ruggiero.
   "It’s a way for them to try and find a cure. I’ve been enjoying participating. It gives me something to fight back with," said Jack Ruggiero, who lives in Holmdel.
   In order to participate in the marathon, runners and walkers must raise at least $4,200. Vito Ruggiero has raised nearly $100,000 thus far, through help from families, friends and co-workers.
   Through a co-worker at Bear Stearns in Whippany, Ande Taylor, Vito Ruggiero first heard about the marathon. She had already signed up for the society’s Team-In-Training Program, which helps its participants train for the marathons.
   With the help of Ms. Taylor and his brother Jack Ruggiero, Vito Ruggiero began to take better care of himself to prepare himself for the marathon. At the time, Vito Ruggiero weighed 300 pounds, but has since lost 62 pounds. He walks five to six miles a day, four times a week.
   "Every weekend we have a long walk with the Team-In-Training. I walk about 50 miles a week," he said.
   Those long walks take place in the hilly terrain of Warren to get the participants ready for the rugged terrain of Anchorage. Vito Ruggiero said he and his family have gotten to know the other runners and walkers very well.
   "We’re walking together each Sunday, becoming friends for life. I’m probably hooked myself. I wanted to do it for my brother and I wanted to do it for me," he said.
   This is not Jack Ruggiero’s first bout with cancer. In 1995, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and went into remission following surgery and radiation treatment.
   Vito Ruggiero, who wears a band around his wrist for his brother and will have Jack Ruggiero’s name written across the back of his marathon shirt, said he is inspired to continue his rigid exercise and diet program by watching his brother persevere in his fight with cancer.
   "All throughout his chemotherapy, Jack worked. He didn’t want to stay home and be sick," said Vito.
   "If he’s got cancer and went through all the treatments, why can’t I do this for him?"
   Jack Ruggiero works as a commodities trader in New York, "on the floor," with his fellow traders in the chaos of buying and selling.
   Vito Ruggiero said the society is involved with several marathons a month, on the Jersey shore, San Diego and Lake Tahoe, Nev.
   In the Jersey Shore marathon, a woman who did not know the Ruggieros ran the marathon in honor of Jack Ruggiero.
   "People are amazing. They don’t have to do it. It’s not only people with sick families and friends. Some people just want to do it," he said.
   The brothers also attend the society’s meetings where people share their experience, said Jack Ruggiero, whose cancer is now in remission.
   Jack Ruggiero is an honor patient of the society, along with another patient.
   "They look for people who are willing to go to meetings," he said.
   At past meetings, he and Ms. Taylor have spoken and "touched a lot of hearts," he said.
   Vito Ruggiero said the society uses 75 percent of the money it raises for research and development. The rest goes toward operating the society and to help members who need financial assistance.
   The brothers have been both touched and changed by their experiences with the society and the other marathon participants they have met.
   "It’s very inspirational to see that so many people care. It’s very heartwarming," said Jack Ruggiero.
   "My whole outlook on life is different," said Vito Ruggiero. "Now, I look at the trees, the flowers and even the weeds."
   To donate to the society on behalf of Jack Ruggiero, send donations to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Northern New Jersey Chapter, 45 Springfield Avenue, Springfield, N.J. 07081.