Life is looking much brighter for Cristina Tortolano, as she celebrated her eighth birthday with her friends in December. She went to Reel To Real Recording Studio in Cranston and worked with Cranston resident and studio owner Anthony Marrapese to create her own CD.
It was not just a celebration for her birthday; it was a celebration of her life. She had survived pediatric cancer.
After Tortolano was diagnosed with stage III cancer in March of 2011, as a cantaloupe size tumor was found in her left kidney, her parents, Brian and Aimee Tortolano, were not sure their daughter would live to celebrate another birthday, Christmas or New Year. Along with Cristina’s 3-year-old twin siblings, Domenic and Elisabeth, the family pulled together, hoping for the best. Friends, family and neighbors showed an outpouring of support and prayers.
One of those people was Marrapese.
“We met Anthony after Cristina was asked by Make A Wish to be a Wish Model for a fundraiser that a local pageant organization was doing,” Aimee explained. “Cristina, of course, was thrilled to model. It was through that organization that Cristina has really felt beautiful; she was just starting to get her hair back and she was modeling and looked so beautiful. Since that time, we have stayed in touch with the organization and, of course, Anthony, because he is just an amazing person. I feel blessed to have met him.”
Marrapese donated his time to provide the voiceover work for the event, which shared Cristina’s appreciation for her wish being granted. She met Taylor Swift last year through Make A Wish.
“It was when she was going through one of the low points in her young life as she battled cancer, with strength and a smile,” said Aimee.
After meeting Swift, Cristina knew she wanted to record her own CD with friends and it was Marrapese this time doing the wish granting. Marrapese is no stranger to paying it forward to others, through his volunteer work with organizations such as Make A Wish and the Tomorrow Fund for more than 15 years.
“She is like a little doll,” said Marrapese. “You can’t help but to fall in love with her and once I knew that she liked to sing, I booked her a birthday recording party in the studio. It was my gift to her after she has taught so many others, of all ages, about strength and survival at such a young age.”
Marrapese already knew that Cristina, although she was in the battle for her life, was already paying it forward as she donated her long hair to Locks for Love, knowing she would again lose her hair during treatment.
“I felt great to do something like that because there was a chance she would not make her eighth birthday,” said Marrapese. “Paying it forward is what it is all about.”
Since their Make A Wish experience, the Tortolano family volunteer through Make A Wish. They chair an event and assist the organization on a continual basis. Cristina, according to her mother, is constantly coming up with fundraising ideas and is intent on making one of her dreams a reality: to have a Children’s Ball for Make A Wish.
After seeing her parents attend such events all dressed up to help others, Cristina, with the help of her family and friends, is in the midst of creating a Children’s Ball for children to be able to dress up and raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer.
“My daughter has taught me that when someone changes your life, it is up to you to help change other lives in the same way,” said Aimee. “Anthony Marrapese is one of those who have helped change our lives and the life of our daughter.”