WILLOWICK, Ohio - The Willowick Police Department has turned pink for the month of October as they take part in the Pink Patch Project. All of their officers are wearing pink patches in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Unfortunately, breast cancer is a disease that had a big impact on their police family this year.
The idea started with Willowick Police Chief Brian Turner. In 2016, he lost his aunt, Madeline Tuner, after a 23-year fight with breast cancer.
“She was one of the most down to earth and realistic people,” Chief Turner said of his aunt. “She was just an absolute sweetheart with a great sense of humor.”
Last year, Chief Turner was at a police conference when he heard about the Pink Patch Project, where police officers around the country wear and sell pink patches in October. It raises awareness and funds for breast cancer research. Turner thought it would be a perfect way to honor his aunt.
“I think it’s nice to branch out and not just be about enforcing the law and show we are human beings and sometimes in our personal lives we deal with the same problems other people deal with,” Chief Turner said.
At first he was hesitant to ask his force, but then in March he heard more bad news. One of his detectives got the call that his wife, Theresa Guerrieri, had breast cancer.
“It’s one of those days you’ll never forget,” Willowick Detective Mark Guerrieri said about the day he found out his wife had breast cancer. “It’s not something you want to remember, but it’s something I’ll never forget."
Theresa Guerrieri tells us it started with just a regular shower in the morning.
“I felt something that wasn’t there the day before,” Theresa said. “I let it go for a week but then I had some pain with it so I called the Cleveland Clinic and they got me in immediately to their breast center.”
The former police officer and mother to two immediately had a double mastectomy but then the cancer moved to her chest muscle. She then had to go through chemotherapy and radiation. As tough as the summer was for her, Theresa says she wouldn’t let cancer define her. She kept her sense of humor and stayed strong for her husband and her two sons.
“My sons’ biggest concerns were if Mommy was going to have no hair,” Theresa said. “But it turned out mommy had a nice shaped head, so I rocked a bald head this summer for them with pride!”
The Guerrieri boys said their mother was so strong through it all.
“It was pretty hard but I knew the whole time I was going to love her as much as I did,” 12-year-old Giovanni Guerrieri said. “I just kept fighting for her and I kept loving her more and more as it kept going.”
After watching this family go through something so tough, Chief Turner was immediately reminded of the pink patches, and made it happen. Because they aren’t traditional uniform patches they couldn’t expect the city to pay for them but their police union graciously bought the patches. Atwell’s Police and Fire Equipment in Painesville then offered to put them on the uniforms and on October 1, every police officer had their blue turned pink.
Even the department’s dispatch team got involved. They don’t wear uniforms but they still made their own pink T-shirts to wear this month.
“I wouldn’t have expected anything different from the team here,” Chief Turner said about his group. “Everyone jumped in full support of this.”
“For Chief Turner to take this on and not even hesitate to order however many hundreds of patches not knowing if he’ll even sell them is incredible and it got me choked up,” Theresa Guerrieri said.
The patches are also on sale at the Willowick Police Department for $10 a patch. So where do the proceeds go? Well, Chief Turner said he wanted Theresa to choose where. Theresa said she wanted to make sure the funds stayed local and helped local families, so she chose The Gathering Place.
The Gathering Place is a cancer support system with locations on the east side in Beachwood and on the west side in Westlake. They provide programs and services to help individuals and their family members cope with the impact of a cancer diagnosis.
“We are 100 percent privately funded,” says Kristina Austin, the chief marketing officer at The Gathering Place. “We don’t get any government or state funding; we only get funding from donations so we are so thankful to Theresa and to the Willowick Police Department.”
Since opening their doors in 2000, The Gathering Place has served more than 40,000 people. Just some of what they offer includes meditation classes, art classes, a gym and a medical library.
They even provide free wigs since they say losing hair is usually the biggest struggle for women.
“We have people of all ages and all ethnicities so we want to make sure we have something for everyone,” Austin said about their wig selection.
As for Theresa, she says she’s loving her short hair and she’s just trying to focus on getting healthy.
“I finished radiation at the end of August,” Theresa said. “Now I’m in the holding pattern and I meet with my oncologist in a few weeks to see if I have the all-clear and see what the next steps are.”
The Guerrieri family says they are staying positive and they definitely look at life differently now.
“Before you would think ‘hey, we have this going on and years and months down the line;' now, it’s more ‘hey, let’s not worry too much down the road and let's enjoy today while we’re here with the ones we love,” said Willowick Police Detective Mark Guerrieri.
Theresa agrees, adding “I just keep going because that’s all I can do and I hope that anyone else who goes through it tries to keep going too.” She added, “You’re going to have your bad days and hopefully you have a support system around you that says it’s okay.”
For Theresa, it’s clear her support system extends beyond her little family into the Willowick Police Department family. And the police department always has someone watching over them: Aunt Madeline Turner.
“If I could see my Aunt Madeline today, I’d love to give her a hug and kiss again and tell her how missed she is by everyone and how she was the inspiration for this whole project here in Willowick,” said Chief Brian Turner.