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"MAE" 2003 Obituary


MAESTRELLO o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-01-25 published
'Death has never fazed me'
Joyful teenager taught children and parents how to live with cancer
By Michael VALPY Saturday, January 25, 2003, Page F11
Cory MAESTRELLO didn't just have cancer, he was a philosopher of cancer. This week he left life celebrated, something he would have considered appropriate for every young person inflicted with his disease.
He was a month short of his 18th birthday. He believed cancer was a gift that had enriched his life.
He died remembered for his infectious enthusiasm, his joy, his grin, his insights into living with a terminal illness, the love he showed to other sufferers, his toughness and his inclination to do impromptu Riverdance imitations in hospital elevators.
On Tuesday afternoon, lying in a hospital bed in Sudbury, Ontario, with pneumonia, he told his father Art: "I'm going to beat this." He was dead a few hours later.
His Sudbury high school, St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School, cancelled exams, declared a "Cory Day" and allowed its students to go home.
The lead singer of a student band in which he had once played composed a song for him. Students from high schools across the city turned up to sign a Cory poster in St. Benedict's chapel.
CJOH-Television, the Canadian Television Network outlet in Ottawa, broadcast a 3½-minute tribute to him on its 6 o'clock news, part of a documentary-in-the-making of his life that now will never be completed. The station's vice-president of news and public affairs, Max KEEPING, was to attend Cory's funeral mass today.
Many members of the Ottawa Senators hockey team planned to attend a memorial service for him at Ottawa's Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
Parents of other children with cancer being treated at the hospital were devastated by the news that he had died, said palliative care nurse Marilyn CASSIDY. " There have been so many families calling."
Cory had befriended and counselled them. He had taught them, parents and children, how to live with cancer and the process of dying.
Interviewed last November for a Globe and Mail Focus article on how to live life at the edge of death, he said: "Death has never fazed me. The only thing that's fazed me is not getting the chance to live this life . . . and I've lived more in two years [with cancer] than most people will live in their entire life, and I appreciate that."
Cory MAESTRELLO, the son of a retired mine worker, revelled in living for his last two years.
"I feel there's a path out there for me," he said. "Be it by God or whatever the higher power is, I always feel there's a path set out for me."
He visited with dying children in the hospital, even after doctors told him that he himself was beyond treatment. He spoke at dead children's memorial services.
He approached Mr. KEEPING last year and asked if he could appear on CJOH's annual fundraising telethon for the hospital. Mr. KEEPING agreed.
Cory was on air for an hour, talking about what it was like to have cancer and showing photographs of Serge, his closest friend at the hospital, who had died. Mr. KEEPING called his presence "compelling."
Cory said excitedly afterward: "Working on the telethon was a blast. The words that I said helped people. It's given me the tools to help people. I don't care if I die tomorrow."
He talked to his Globe and Mail interviewer about the joy he felt with life. "Your very best day is probably my worst day," he said.
He talked about the importance of each day. "I always let everyone know I love them," he said, "just in case I don't get the chance to. I've got to say everything that I need to say today. I may not be here tomorrow to say it."
Said Ms. CASSIDY: " You sometimes found yourself asking if he was too good to be true. He was the real thing, big-time. He was a very special kid" -- a hero to other youngsters with cancer, she said, who faced his own adversity with inner strength and inner ability.
Cory and Max KEEPING became Friends after the CJOH telethon. The station executive took him to Senators' games and introduced him to the players. People introduced to Cory rarely, if ever, forgot him.
He had a delightful, buzzy energy, with an intelligence that measured off the Richter scale, said Nic BATTIGELLI, one of Cory's St. Benedict teachers who gave a eulogy for him at his funeral.
He was charming, and attractive to girls -- frequently girls older than himself. Mr. BATTIGELLI recalled him taking a beautiful Grade 13 student to an event while he was still in Grade 9.
Mr. KEEPING recalled taking Cory to a party for his 30th anniversary as a television broadcaster just before Christmas (Cory was living at the children's hospital's Ronald McDonald House; he went home to Sudbury at Christmas and never returned).
At 2 a.m., Mr. KEEPING suggested to Cory that it was maybe time to to leave. Cory replied that there were still two people at the party, and as long as someone was partying, he wanted to party.
Mr. KEEPING said: "I feel so good that even in six months this kid could teach me how important today is . . . that what's important is what you do with today. He turned on a light and, I know I shouldn't say this, but the light's gone out. It's sad for me. But how enriched I've been -- and I said that on air."
Mr. BATTIGELLI and Cory had developed a bond even before the boy was diagnosed with cancer. Cory wanted to become a teacher, and told Mr. BATTIGELLI shortly after he met him: "You're the teacher I want to be."
Mr. BATTIGELLI said Cory, as a 14-year-old Grade 9 student, asked to join an anti-violence peer-meditation program the teacher ran at the school, and later asked to accompany Mr. BATTIGELLI on a similar conflict resolution project he had started in a nearby first nations community. He said Cory was superb at it.
"He just was a kid who was not a kid," Mr. BATTIGELLI said. "I think God has truly picked up an angel. God sends us signposts. I think he will be my guardian angel for the rest of my teaching career."
St. Benedict principal Teresa STEWARD/STEWART/STUART, when she cancelled exams this week, said: "This is a time for Cory."

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