Joe and Fran Mercolino

Joe and Fran Mercolino's 60th wedding anniversary paid tribute to their late daughter.

For Joe and Fran Mercolino of Melville, NY, their 60th wedding anniversary was all about family, friends and celebration. The joyous occasion also provided the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to their daughter Dianne Toal, who they lost to breast cancer in July 2004.

“We don’t need anything,” said Fran. “We’ve been married 60 years and are more than blessed. So we included a small card in lieu of gifts with our invitation that said ‘A contribution in our daughter Dianne’s memory would be the perfect way to commemorate our day.’ We knew it was the right thing to do for Dianne.”

As part of this meaningful celebration, 52 people contributed $3,485 to the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. All of the gifts supported the Dianne M. Toal Endowment Fund for Cancer Research, established by their son who is an adjunct faculty member at UNC. Part of the UNC Lineberger Seed Grant Program, the fund enables researchers to pursue exciting new discoveries that lead to better methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

The fund is a fitting tribute to Dianne, who battled breast cancer for 10 years. Mother of three daughters, Dianne was a strong proponent of accelerating new ideas like those funded by the seed grant named in her honor. “Any treatment that was up-and-coming or brand new, she would do it, including stem cell transplant” remembered Fran. “Her mantra was ‘Every day I’m alive, my girls are one day older.’ The girls were 6, 8 and 10 when she was diagnosed, and 16, 18 and 20 when we lost her.”

Giving to the fund has become a family tradition for the Mercolinos and the Toals. Every Christmas, the family forgoes giving one another presents and instead makes contributions to Dianne’s fund.

Joe and Fran, who are both breast cancer survivors, say they have a vested interest in supporting cancer research. “We have another daughter and seven granddaughters and a grandson, and we want all of them to grow old and healthy,” Fran explained. “They have to find a cure for this horrific disease. I feel so strongly about this, and we will do whatever we can to continue to contribute to cutting-edge research. Our hope is that someday cancer will be a thing of the past.”