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East County Wednesday, May 18, 2022 2 months ago

Butterfly release in Lakewood Ranch honors those battling cancer and their caregivers

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Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation hosted the event to raise nonmedical financial aid for patients.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

Those attending the Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation painted lady butterfly release May 17 in Lakewood Ranch said it was a touching moment that proved to be impactful for both cancer survivors and those who had helped others during cancer treatments.

Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation had collected $25 donations to correspond with the 250 butterflies released at Silver Falls Park at Lakewood Centre.

Donations were made not only in remembrance of loved ones, but also in honor of caregivers, physicians, and nurses who had helped the donors.

Andrea Cirabisi, the client services manager for the foundation, said it was a beautiful tradition and a great way to honor those who have passed.

Executive Director Lynn Rasys and Business Development Associate Marjan Zaun release some of the 250 butterflies.

Lynn Rasys, executive director of the foundation, said the event was held for the first time last year as a result of COVID-19. She said the foundation had sought a way to host an event that people could participate in online, if they so desired, whether they had made donations or just wanted to view the event.

Rasys said that last year’s event resonated with the public because it was held in May, a time that includes Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, graduations, and weddings.

“It was just kind of the perfect scenario,” she said. “We’re thinking it will be an annual tradition.”

She decided to hold the event after attending a golf tournament benefitting the foundation at the Black Diamond Ranch. On that occasion, she said, butterflies were released and she told the organizers that she would love to use the idea for the foundation as well.

"I was just so moved," she said. 

The butterflies were purchased from the Butterfly Release Company in Sorrento. Kristie Teal, development and event manager with the foundation, transported them from the farm herself. 

This year's event was both a live and virtual event with a handful of guests watching the release live.

After a poem reading by Business Development Associate Marjan Zaun, and another by Teal, participants opened their envelopes and the butterflies were released.

Crawling out from within the envelopes and slowly stretching their wings, the butterflies took a few minutes to take flight and then slowly spread across the area, landing on participants, nearby plants, and on the ground.

Rasys said the butterflies will help populate the local ecosystem.

The painted lady butterflies perch on a branch, entering their natural habitat.

“I’ve always loved butterflies,” said Debbi Petruzziello. “Because they change, they feel in step with the process of life. There’s beauty around you."

Petruzziello’s husband, Michael Petruzziello, died in 2020 due to cholangiocarcinoma and was a patient of the foundation. She said that the event was “a way to start the day honoring my husband and other cancer patients.”

She said during the time Michael Petruzziello was fighting cancer, she did not have to worry about finances, and she was glad to donate to the organization to help other cancer-stricken patients and their families with financial concerns.

“With the way things are, people need to know there are resources to help them,” she said. "The moment you hear about the diagnosis, it’s more than anyone should have to go through.”

"It symbolizes life with my husband, and is a reminder he’s always with me," she said. "He was amazing.”

Rasys said the foundation's goal is providing non-medical financial aid for those who are undergoing cancer treatment.

Gezil Andrews of Sun City Center releases a butterfly.

“That way, they're not worried about that,” she said. “They can focus on recovery and fighting cancer.”

Gezil Andrews of Sun City Center, who had donated in honor of her parents who both died of cancer a year apart, said, “I was so touched to honor my parents. It was an opportunity to be in tune with everything.

“Butterflies have very short lives. And many cancer patients live shorter lives. We should celebrate their life. You’ve had your parents for 70 years, and when they die you think, that wasn’t enough. You miss them and you want to talk to them. You have to cherish the time that you have.”

Kristi Teal, a cancer survivor, said she lost her father to cancer. She released a butterfly in honor of him, as well as the medical team of the Florida Cancer Specialists.

“For me, it’s just that person always being with you, spiritually” she said about the event.

Mike Hibnick, a Sarasota resident whose parents both died of cancer, said that he watched the event online last year and decided to attend in person this time. "It’s a worthwhile cause. It’s just something beautiful,” he said.

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