Maria Mavridis has a promise to keep.
Before her mother Vera died of breast cancer at the age of 45, she asked her middle daughter to continue on with the work she had started. Vera lived with the cancer diagnosis and its progression for 13 years, and during that time, she volunteered for several organizations that raised money to fight cancer, promoted awareness of the disease or offered support to those who were going through cancer treatment.
Maria, who was eight when Vera was diagnosed, says she has no real memories of her mother before she was sick, but she was always strong and positive, and Maria has many good memories of great family times, despite her mother’s lengthy illness. Maria has had the BRCA blood test that uses DNA analysis to determine an increased risk of breast cancer. The test showed a “high degree of likelihood” she will develop the disease, she says.
“You can look at it two ways — you can say ‘oh my God’ and let it change your entire life, or you can just keep living it. The lesson I took from my mom was to live your life the way you want to and enjoy it. I don’t look at it as a negative. I look at it as a lesson to make the most of my life every day.”
Maria was 21 when her mother died, and she fulfilled her mother’s wish to look after her older sister, who has health issues, and her other sister who is two years younger. Her father, Bob Mavridis, concentrated on work and dealt with his own grief. Now, she says, she can look back on that time and realize how hard it was for him, and they are very close today — Maria works with him, helping to look after the family restaurants.
She is a busy mom and business woman, but she continues to make time to honour her mother’s request and has organized several fundraising events. While she might have started on that path for her mother, she realizes now she is also doing it for herself — she enjoys the sense she is accomplishing something positive. She believes too she is doing it for her daughter Hope, setting a good example for Hope to follow.
Her favourite organization to work with is Pink Pearls, a cancer support group for women between the ages of 18 and 40. It was founded by Meet Elise Gasbarrino, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 21.
While Gasbarrino was receiving treatment at Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton, she found there were not many women her age to talk to about her situation, and decided to organize some programs for the younger age group, including wellness retreats, social events and family support.
Once Mavridis met Gasbarrino and learned of Pink Pearls, which gives 100 per cent of the money it raises to fighting cancer, she began working with her on fundraisers in Toronto, but recently decided to introduce the organization to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
She’s doing that with help from Paul Harber of Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, who has been a close friend since Maria moved from Hamilton and started school at Niagara District.
The event will be held July 5 at the St. Davids winery, and tickets are $89, which includes food and wine, or $1,200 for a table of 10, which includes some extras.
It’s for men and women, Maria says — some men hear it’s a fundraiser for women with cancer and assume the event is only for women.
There will be great food, Ravine wines, live music and a retail pop-up for shopping.
Harber says he is happy to help out — not just because Maria’s an old friend, but because he and his family believe in giving back to the community any way they can.
He’s not only providing a venue for the event, but is donating an auction prize of a dinner and wine for 30 people in the winery’s barrel cellar, with the party continuing upstairs for more wine — a value of $5,000.
For tickets call Ravine at 905-262-8463.