Sixteen years have passed and yet the tears flow easily at the mention of his name.
Carol Conologue has accomplished so much in that time, raising three kids alone, succeeding in business. She's driven and tough — until she allows herself too much time to remember the awful days crisscrossing the nation in search of a cure for her man who had been so strong, so seemingly indestructible.
Cancer claimed Chris Conologue in 1998 at age 37. Two years later, his widow gathered the children and moved from their native Long Island to Florida. She found a house in Palm Harbor and opened an ice cream store, excelled at real estate and got the kids through high school and college. She had learned much about blood cancers during the four years that Chris endured bone marrow transplants and experimental therapies for Hodgkins disease, but she couldn't bring herself to get involved in the fight. "Too much pain,'' she said. "I just wasn't ready.''
And then something happened to change all that.
Four months ago, Carol visited her daughter Christa, 26, at a bone marrow transplant center in Orlando where she worked as a nurse practitioner. "It just brought everything back,'' she said. A few days later her friend Bill Heyser, a financial adviser for Raymond James, nominated her as a candidate for Woman of the Year, an honorary title given annually to the most prolific female fundraiser for the nonprofit Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
"It just seemed to be a sign,'' Carol said. "We got a lot of help when Chris was sick, and it was time to give something back.''
She joined 11 other community leaders from the Tampa Bay area in the 10-week campaign that will also name a Man of the Year at a gala dinner at the downtown Tampa Hilton on May 9. The candidates raise money in honor of two area children who are in remission from acute lymphoblastic leukemia — Kyanna Olampo, a 7-year-old first-grader at Seven Springs Elementary School in New Port Richey, and a boy named Nezden, 6, a kindergartener at Dickenson Elementary in Tampa. His last name was withheld at the family's request.
"Everybody wins in this contest,'' Carol said. "All the money collected goes to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.''
The two most prolific local fundraisers will be candidates for national recognition by the organization that began in 1949. Carol anticipates chipping in $30,000 toward research and said some candidates have raised more than $100,000 in past campaigns through corporate sponsorships.
She works as a Realtor with Re/Max Elite in Palm Harbor. Her territory includes Pasco County, and she has formed a special bond with Kyanna, who was diagnosed at age 3 and spent more than two years in chemotherapy at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. They meet regularly, and last week Carol showed up to watch Kyanna at softball practice.
"I fully expect to attend her wedding someday,'' Carol said. "She's an inspiration.''
Carol expects to remain active in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society long after the current campaign. "I'm here to honor Chris,'' she said. "I'll never get over the pain of losing him, but I'll try to make something better of it.''