Jerry Lewandowski's Story
When you walk through the doors of the Lewandowksi household, you’ll be welcomed in with warmth and kindness — whether you’re a friend or stranger. If you need something to eat, Jerry Lewandowski, 53, will happily fire up the grill. If you need a place to stay, his two kids, Grace, 22, and Jerry Jr., 25, will grab extra blankets and make space for you, no questions asked.
In a big house in a quiet suburban neighborhood outside of Albany, the three Lewandowskis work hard to carry on the long-standing traditions started by Theresa Puleo-Lewandowski, a mother, wife and respected lawyer. Theresa was an advocate for what the family called “taking in the strays,” which means welcoming all who enter with open arms. Their home has long been synonymous with community for those who know them.
Navigating Life After Loss
In recent years, the Lewandowski house has taken on a quieter atmosphere. Some things have remained the same: their three dogs running around the house, a dusty old bike with a Ride for Roswell bib hanging in the garage. But much has changed.
The mantle now holds a lifetime of keepsakes: beloved pictures, diplomas, a box of candy. In the middle, a wooden box rests with candles on either side. For the last two years, the flame they share has never been extinguished — not since the candles were first lit in honor of Theresa.
Two years after losing her life to stage IV colorectal cancer, Theresa continues to make an impact through the hearts of those who loved her most.
Theresa always sought to do right by other people. “Taking in the strays” was just one of the many ways she made a difference for others. She was a woman of strong morals, and fighting for what’s right was in her DNA since day one.
Theresa came into the world two months premature with underdeveloped lungs and a string of health complications. She wasn’t given a proper middle name because the doctors didn’t anticipate she’d survive. But she fought hard and made it — and then she moved on to fighting for others.
“She was phenomenal,” her husband, Jerry, said. “She really was. She was very understanding, very loving. I don’t know how she kept all the balls in the air and still maintained her career. Everything was for her family. And yet — she was able to maintain the professional, ethical lifestyle that she chose as a career.”
On the job as a trial litigator, Theresa’s poised demeanor and sharp, pitch-perfect arguments commanded the courtrooms she worked in. At home, Theresa listened intently to her kids, Jerry Jr. and Grace, and challenged them, without judgement or anger, to always think critically about their choices. Her strong moral compass and high ethical standards earned her respect among colleagues and awe among her family and friends.
Honoring Theresa by Fueling Cancer Research
Now, the Lewandowskis are figuring out life in a new chapter without Theresa. Each family member copes differently — sometimes, they cope together; sometimes, they cope in quiet moments alone. For Jerry, coping also means picking up where Theresa left off.
Theresa was an avid runner, so Jerry stepped up and completed a half marathon. Theresa cycled and participated in the Ride for Roswell. She also strongly supported Roswell Park, a place where she felt comfortable and at ease during her cancer treatments.
“We flew all over the country trying to find different treatments for her cancer. I remember one time walking into Roswell Park. Theresa turns around and says, ‘You know, every time I walk in here, I feel like I’m home.’ And that meant the world to me, that she was comfortable there.”
“They say, spend just one day with us. And we did the one whole day with Roswell Park. Got there at like seven in the morning, and we didn’t leave until eight at night. We were going to go for other opinions, and she got done talking to the doctor, and she says, ‘Sign me up.’ And they opened up a trial to her and told her that they would accept her. And we got more time with Theresa because of that,” Jerry said. “I just want to give back as much as I can now.”
Tackling a 500+ Mile Biking Adventure of a Lifetime
The day of orientation for #ESR22, Jerry Jr. and Grace drove their father to Wagner College.
“It was like dropping your child off,” Grace recalls. “Everybody was crying. We were hoping he was going to make friends and have a good time. We were so nervous to drop him off. And then ….” she pauses. “Normally every day at home, he calls us five times a day. What are you doing? What are you doing? On that weeklong ride, WE were calling HIM. He was so happy. He left us alone for the week. He fit right in, and he loves it. And he now plans to do it every single year.”
For Jerry, the Empire State Ride is both an opportunity to honor Theresa and a chance to connect with people who understand what he’s going through. Many of the people on the road have experienced the loss of loved ones to cancer or have battled cancer themselves.
To date, Jerry has raised more than $96,485 for the cause.
Join Jerry by donating today.