Breast Cancer: A Survival Story, Wine Included

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lori_breastCancer.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When Lori Ondaro was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, her children knew she would need a big show of support if the single mom was going to beat the disease a second time around.  After successfully battling the disease more than 20 years ago, Lori had recently learned from her oncologist that the cancer was back, only this time it had spread throughout her entire body.

Family Ties - The Roots That Bind

"[Following the first cancer battle] I'd gotten my wish to see my children grow into exceptional adults, but I wasn't through," Lori explains of her first thoughts on hearing the news.  "I wanted to see my grandchildren grow up as well."  As members of her family gathered together to lend support during the critical days following the diagnosis, Lori's eldest son and his wife - both of whom work in the wine business in Northern California - proposed founding a wine label whose proceeds would go towards helping to find a cure for the disease. 
Family members - overwhelmed by a desire to help Lori - as well as the countless others whose lives are touched by breast cancer each year - were quick to jump on board.  "It brought us a blessing as well as the curse of breast cancer," reflects Lori's son Jeff Murrell, who conceived of the winery concept, on the family's decision to start American Roots Winery in 2006.  Jeff, who holds a Ph.D. in Bio-Organic Chemistry from UC Davis, makes the wine alongside his wife, Julie Murrell, who is assistant winemaker at The Hess Collection in Napa.  Other family members assist with sales, distribution, marketing and promotion.   

Transforming Pain Into Payoff
Today, the label produces some 500 cases a year of Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah known simply as "Red," "White" and "Blue," respectively, in deference to the winery's patriotic name (which was also the name of Lori's longtime antiques business).  True to the family's promise, ten percent of all sales generated by American Roots wines go directly to organizations that improve the lives of breast cancer victims and further the search for a cure.  As the wines begin to drum up attention - including praise from Wine Enthusiast Magazine, which called the 2006 Chardonnay "brilliant" and "zesty" - sales, along with corresponding charitable donations, are on the rise.   

Meanwhile, Lori is still undergoing treatment and feels thankful for each additional day she has the opportunity to watch her grandchildren grow up.  "I have such a special bond with each of them," she enthuses.  On the health front, she credits her strength in the face of her ongoing battle to her family:  "I feel blessed that I have such an immense support system in my family - they truly keep me taking steps forward day by day with hope and gratitude for all I have."

Lori's plans for the future include helping the operation grow (more sales means more charitable donations) and spending as much time as possible with family and friends, no doubt over sips of American Roots wine.  As life experiences go, hers is a lesson in making the most of life's most unexpected challenges, courtesy of her own resolve, a caring family and a promising new winery.  

We wouldn't have it any other way in wine country. 

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Bless you for what you're doing to help find a cure. I'm in Altamonte Springs, Florida and this will be my ninth year of chairing the ACS Relay For Life in our city. We've raised well over a half million dollars for the cause. And what an awesome experience.

My best friend of 36 year was diagnosed last October with breast cancer. But because of early detection, she needed a small surgery with radiation. She came down from Virginia to walk in the first lap of Relay as a survivor at our event. We're blessed that the pill she'll be taking will keep this at bay. It was invented with funding from Relay so I'm even more proud to be doing this every year.

My prayers and thoughts are with you for a speedy recovery and a good, long, healthy life. Family is so important in times like this and you certainly have a lot of support.

All my best,
Pat Bates

Hi Lori,
Wishing you the best throughout your 2nd diagnosis. I know what you are feeling. I was diagnosed with leukemia in Nov. 2007 and had a bone marrow transplant in January 2008. I returned to work in July 2008 and have been making the best of my life. Do not give up!! God will hear our prayers and will help us all (with cancer) for a speedy recovery. BY the way, my husband loves wine and loves the Hess Collection. I will continue to push him to buy many more because now I know that proceeds will go to cure breast cancer.
My best,

I am amazed at and I admire your courage. You have a beautiful family and it is great that you can continue to enjoy despite everything you must deal with
I will pray for you, that God will send his blessings on everything you turn your hand to and make it easy for you.
I loved seeing your family.
With many thoughts,
Emma May, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

I love your newsletter and was thrilled to see your issue on breast cancer. I am reciprocating with our October issue. You can download a Public Service Announcement on Breast Cancer from our website, under resources, materials in both English and Spanish.

Keep up the good work! Pat Kearns

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