SOUTHOLD, NY — From the time her daughter Loretta was just six months old, Susan Lawlor of Southold has known years of fear as her only child battled cancer and blindness. And then this year, both mother and daughter contracted the coronavirus.
A fundraiser for Loretta has been organized in memory of Mattituck's Kaitlyn Doorhy, who died at 20 after she was hit by a car while away at college.The Kait's Angels Community Yard Sale will be held at the Doorhy home at 1125 Old Jule Lane in Mattituck on Saturday, August 1, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Darla Doorhy, Kaitlyn's mother, said.
Loretta, 32, was diagnosed at six months old with bilateral retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer, in both eyes, and has endured years of radiation and surgeries. Today, she is disabled and legally blind. And, in recent months, both Loretta and her mother had the coronavirus, Susan Lawlor said.
The coronavirus, Lawlor believes, triggered her daughter's heart failure. "She's 32 years old with the heart of an 80-year old," she said. "Her heart is enlarged and weak, but we are taking it one day at a time."
Her daughter's medical challenges have bene daunting: Since the time she was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, she has had 11 tumors in both eyes and endured radiation and chemotherapy, which have left her developmentally disabled and blind, Lawlor said.
Loretta, she said, was enrolled in the special education program at the Southold Union School District before she attended high school at the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts.
In December, Loretta had a cough she couldn't shake; by the end of February she had chest X rays and lab work and a doctor told Lawlor to get her daughter to the emergency room — she had gone into congestive heart failure and had pneumonia.
"It was a very long week," Lawlor said. "I didn't know if she was going to make it. It was very scary."
Loretta was discharged and able to come home on March 8, right before the coronavirus shut down the economy. A few days later, Lawlor came down with a fever that lasted 18 days but she was unable to be tested for the coronavirus because she had no respiratory symptoms, she said.
Later, both had antibody tests that came back positive for coronavirus.
Lawlor, who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia 25 years ago and also struggles with depression, said she faces challenges in caring for her daughter alone; the financial hurdles loom.
And then, there are other fears that haunt.
"I'm always afraid. There are no brothers, no sisters, no cousins —no one to go to when I die. That feeling of fear was there way before COVID ever existed," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen to her when I'm gone."
But despite all the worry that weighs heavily, Lawlor and her daughter find time to laugh.
"The two of us are always goofing on each other," Lawlor said. "You have to laugh. Without humor and without faith, I don't know where any of us would be. You turn your scars into stars."
Loretta, Lawlor said, graduated with a high school diploma. "Her processing is very slow, but she's smart. She loves to read. She absolutely adores books, horseback riding, and dogs."
If it weren't for COVID, her daughter would be horseback riding at the Four Star Ranch in Medford or at Camp Sunshine at Sebago Lake in Maine, where both Loretta and Lawlor were able to meet other young people and parents facing the same medical challenges.
This past Christmas, a friend played Santa and created a small library near their home, "Loretta's Little Library," that her daughter is very proud of, Lawlor said. "She keeps it filled."
Loretta also won a gold medal in equitation at the local Special Olympics, her mother said. She's volunteered at the North Shore Horse Rescue, at the Hallockville Museum Farm, and at the Southold Library, cleaning the children's books — but because of her processing difficulties and blindness, she has been unable to find employment.
"It's been a long road," Lawlor said. Faced with her daughter's battle and her own medical constraints, she added: "There were many times I didn't think I'd have another day. But God was good. I got my miracles. And I continue to pray."
Then came the news that Doorhy was organizing the yard sale to help Lawlor and her daughter, and she found herself speechless with gratitude.
"I was blown away," Lawlor said.
Until she got fibromyalgia, she was the one always wanting to give back to others, Lawlor said. She started a special education group for other parents of children with special needs in Southold and focused on moving forward.
"You take what you've got and run with it because if you don't, you're going to sit there and wallow in self-pity," Lawlor said. "The word 'can't' was never in my vocabulary. When I was told that my daughter had cancer and she couldn't be cured, I said, 'No way will I go with that.'"
And today, Loretta remains in remission, her mother said.
Her can-do spirit has made it hard to accept the kindness of others, Lawlor said, adding that she is deeply grateful for the upcoming yard sale and Doorhy's efforts.
"How do you say 'thank you' for the energy someone else is putting into something for your benefit that you, yourself, don’t ask for? I never ask for help. I was always the one doing the helping. I said, 'Okay, God, give me the strength to accept help with grace.' It's very hard to do, very humbling."
But both women are bonded by the ties of motherhood — and Doorhy's mission is to help others with the mission of keeping her own daughter's beautiful memory alive.
When asked how she finds the strength to move forward, even after facing Loretta' cancer, blindness, and then, coronavirus, Lawlor said: "I do it for my daughter. Hopefully, I can give her a better life than she would have if she were alone."
Donations for the yard sale, which will also benefit Maren DeSantis, 9, who has Rett syndrome, can be dropped off on Friday, July 31, at the Doorhy home from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. No medical equipment, TVs, exercise equipment, large furniture, lawn mower or computers can be accepted.
Masks and social distancing will be required at the sale.