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Palm Aire resident aims for $1 million donation to American Cancer Society

Dianne Fonseca has raised over $600,000 over 12 years.

Dianne Fonseca is a 25-year cancer survivor with a goal to raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.
Dianne Fonseca is a 25-year cancer survivor with a goal to raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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Dianne Fonseca’s first goal was to beat breast cancer. 

“I found the lump myself,” Fonseca said. “I was told that my cancer was ugly and aggressive, and there was no cure for me.” 

The Palm Aire resident has been cancer free for 25 years. 

Fonseca’s second goal was to raise $500,000 for the American Cancer Society. Now that she’s raised over $600,000 over the past 12 years, she has a new goal — to raise $1 million. 

To celebrate 25 years of being cancer-free, Fonseca’s friends helped her get $1,100 closer to her goal using their knitting needles. 

Brought together by their favorite yarn shop, the knitters crafted 10 pink hats. Each hat was traded for a $100 donation. One donor just wanted to give, so the 10 hats earned $100 more than expected. 

The women, who live all over Sarasota and Manatee counties, met at A Good Yarn. The Sarasota shop is on its third location since opening in Sarasota 15 years ago. The women followed behind after each move. 

There’s no formal date and time when they meet each month; they just like to drop in and knit at the shop. For some of its best customers and a good cause, A Good Yarn donated all the yarn for the hats. 

“We couldn’t have made this much money without (the donation),” Sarasota resident Mary Chadsey said. “There’s $78 worth of yarn in each hat.” 

The premium yarn is a blend of Merino wool, cashmere and mohair. Chadsey joked that everyone needs a $78 cashmere hat, right? 

But yarn alone doesn’t make a hat. Fonseca’s friends took the time to make the hats, and it took a couple weeks for each woman to knit just one. The year before, the women made a blanket, which was even more time intensive. 

Chadsey led the group to hats this year because she knew they could earn more donations with 10 items versus one. 

Marianne Cohen, Mary Chadsey, Peggy Crew, Dianne Fonseca, Ilene Grossbard, Jodi Bloom Feuerstein and Priscilla Wild knit at A Good Yarn on a Wednesday afternoon. The knitters not pictured are Coleen Sterling, Susie West, Adrianne Petillo and Bianca Bendraouia.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

“I’m grateful,” Fonseca said. “It’s amazing. My sons both said to me, ‘Mom, out of something so bad, you made something so good.’”

Fonseca was 51 years old when diagnosed with breast cancer. She was a foreign language teacher in a Rhode Island high school. She and her husband Tony had two sons, Tony and Vincent, but no grandchildren yet. 

Despite being told the cancer would kill her, Fonseca is now a 76-year-old grandmother to four granddaughters and one grandson. 

“It’s all a blessing, every bit of it,” Fonseca said. “That’s why I keep (fundraising).” 

Fonseca didn’t start out as the top fundraiser she is now. She started as a patient in the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program. The program pairs cancer patients with cancer survivors. The survivors volunteer their time and personal experiences. 

The emotional support was so valuable to Fonseca that she became a volunteer for the program when she crossed over to the survivor side.   

It wasn’t until 12 years ago that she became involved in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. The walks are annual events that take place across the country. Even though she’s a Florida resident now, Fonseca still participates in her home state of Rhode Island. 

She’s not just a top fundraiser for Making Strides of Providence. Fonseca was ranked No. 11 on the list of National Top Pacesetters for raising $58,549 last year. She credits her success to her teaching days. 

“I was the chair of the foreign language department,” Fonseca said. “I wasn’t given a big budget to get stuff, so I think some of those skills have carried over in my fundraising because I have no qualms about asking for things.” 

The team’s name is Keeping the Pace with Dianne. Fonseca sets the pace and the bar high. She upped her fundraising goal, not only because she surpassed the $500,000 mark, because her team will become a legacy team if they raise $1 million. 

To meet that goal, Fonseca has hosted a Women’s Night Out event at the Kirkbrae Country Club in Rhode Island for the past 12 years. Because 2024 marks the 25th anniversary of being cancer free, this year’s event will be a gala. 

“I want to raise a million before I leave this earth,” Fonseca said. “It’s become a passion.”



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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