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Father honors daughter’s life, struggles in new book

Lauren Magnuson
Father honors daughter’s life, struggles in new book
(Photo: Frank Terrazzano)

Before Lauren Terrazzano learned she had cancer at age 36, she told her father that her life goals as a journalist included winning a Pulitzer Prize and writing a book.

She did win that Pulitzer Prize, an award she shared with her team at Newsday for their coverage of the TWA Flight 800 crash. But Terrazzano’s life was cut short in 2007 by lung cancer — despite being a non-smoker — just three years after her diagnosis.

“She never got to write that book. I was going to do something for her in that respect,” said Frank Terrazzano, her father and the co-author of “Life, with Cancer: The Lauren Terrazzano Story,” which was released on Oct. 2 and features a foreword from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Anna Quindlen.

Born in East Boston and raised in Tewksbury, Lauren Terrazzano established a celebrated career in social journalism. Her father said that in honoring his daughter’s memory, he wanted to show that “first and foremost she was a truly dedicated and caring journalist. She really cared about people.”

During her 14 years at Newsday, Lauren’s investigative reporting on the lack of adequate security at New York nursing homes resulted in new legislation to address the problem and earned her a commendation from then-Gov. George Pataki.

Lauren’s career also earned her the Anna Quindlen Award for Excellence in Journalism for her work on stories about children and families.

“She became a voice for the voiceless,” Terrazzano said of his daughter’s passion for addressing social issues and championing those who “fall through the cracks.”

“She was adamant about trying to get them on the front page … not for her name, but for the story,” said Paul Lonardo, co-author of the book.

Lonardo interviewed many of Lauren’s friends and former colleagues to paint a picture of her life. He said their accounts sounded almost too good to be true.

“She did go that extra mile for her friends and for her stories, and that’s kind of what the book is about,” Lonardo said.

She went that extra mile even while traveling when her cancer was in remission. Lauren went to Guatemala in 2005 to visit a friend from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she earned her master’s in 1994. The region had been ravaged by Hurricane Stan, with deadly mudslides leveling whole communities. Lauren was able to contact and convince the U.S. Army Southern Command to allow her to accompany four young men on a 15-hour helicopter mission delivering food and supplies. She reported her experience in an article that was widely syndicated in the U.S.

“She was supposed to be on vacation,” Frank Terrazzano said. “I don’t know how she did it, but being the journalist that she was, if there was a story … she was going to sniff it out.”

In her final months, Lauren Terrazzano published a weekly column in Newsday entitled “Life, with Cancer.” She developed a following with her direct approach to difficult subjects, such as the stigma surrounding lung cancer and the inappropriate things people say to cancer patients.

“She got thousands of cards from people,” her father said. “It’s just amazing the following she got.”

Frank Terrazzano has compiled a pamphlet of all of her columns, which he provides free to cancer treatment centers, support groups and individuals.

Lauren’s final column, which was published posthumously, celebrated the then-upcoming Kites for a Cure, a kite-flying event on Long Island to raise awareness and funding for lung cancer research. Flying kites was a hobby that Lauren shared with her father on Sundays at the beach when she was growing up, he said. Frank made his own kite featuring a photograph of Lauren that he and his wife, Virginia, fly on the beach in their town of Hull every year on her birthday, March 28, and the date of her passing, May 15.

A portion of the book’s proceeds will go to the Lauren Elizabeth Terrazzano Memorial Scholarship Fund, which her parents established at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Frank Terrazzano said the process of writing the book was emotionally challenging at times, but ultimately he is pleased that they were able to overcome the many obstacles to publishing a book.

“I’m so happy,” he said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would get this far.”