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Survivor drives home story of hope

Sep 16th 2012

LINCOLN — Laurie Cordeiro’s first visit to the Gloria Gemma Classic Car Show came three years ago, just months after learning she had breast cancer.


   It had been a rough few months, with a rigorous course of chemotherapy that caused her to lose most of her hair.


   But it wasn’t her hair, or lack of it, that prompted some to turn their heads when she and her husband Tony arrived at that year’s car show at Twin River. Rather, it was her husband’s pink 1957 Chevy, which bore the license plate “KI-MOE.”


   “People thought it referred to my chemotherapy,” Cordeiro recalled Friday. “Actually, my husband had the car and the plate well before we knew I had cancer.” The plate referred to her husband’s nickname, which derives from the term the Lone Ranger used when talking to his Indian pal, Tonto: ke-mo sah-bee.


   The car (officially a coral color) landed the couple a trophy in 2009 and provided Cordeiro with her first introduction to the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, which started in 2004 in honor of Gloria Gemma, a mother of nine who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and died 11 months later at 69. Members of the Gemma family own Gem Plumbing and Heating, and Gloria’s son Anthony just lost a Democratic primary bid against U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline.


   Cordeiro, a Bristol resident who had worked as a civilian contract specialist in the U.S. Coast Guard’s civil engineering facility in Warwick, had left that post in 2008 to take a higher paying position at the Providence VA Medical Center, eight months before getting her cancer diagnosis.


   By 2010, it seemed that radiation treatments had worked, and she managed to get her old job back at the Coast Guard. Then at the start of 2011, she felt a pain in her chest and found that the cancer had returned.


   “Cancer changes everybody’s lives,” says Cordeiro, who has a son, 29, and a daughter, 26. “It affects not just you, but everyone around you.”


   Now a volunteer who puts in a few hours a week, Cordeiro has been very busy these days. She has been instrumental in Rhode Island’s first Garden of Hope, being planned for the community center in Bristol, and in having her husband’s Chevy ride in the Bristol 4th of July Parade in front of a float with cancer survivors.


   At Sunday’s car show, set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Twin River in Lincoln, she expects to be on hand in another pink vehicle — the Gloria Gemma Hope Bus — greeting other cancer survivors and answering questions.


   She also hopes to be a torchbearer in October’s Flames of Hope Celebration between the State House lawn and Water-place Park. | (401) 277-7384

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