A Sister Honors Her Brother by Supporting Oral Cancer Foundation

First Annual Memorial Walk Raises Over $10,000 to Promote Early Detection

David Nasto was the kind of person many of us wish we could be. He was a surfer. A snowboarder. A kayaker. A bicycler. An artist. A world traveler. A free spirit. Not content to simply be a devoted fan of the Grateful Dead, he also designed their album covers. Simply put, David Nasto loved life, and he lived it on his own terms.

David Nasto was also his sister Susan’s hero. So when David developed oral cancer in 2005, Susan decided to learn as much about the disease as she could. And when David passed away the following year, she decided to honor her brother do by doing what she could to help prevent others from suffering the way he suffered.

“When David was diagnosed with oral cancer, I was shocked,” said Susan. “He was so athletic, so healthy, and he had never smoked a cigarette in his life. I didn’t think oral cancer struck people like him.” Susan tried to learn as much as she could about the disease, spending much of her free time doing online research. During that process she discovered the website of the Oral Cancer Foundation. “I learned a lot about oral cancer, but the most important thing I learned is the importance of early detection. So when David died, I wanted to find a way to raise money to help increase awareness of the need for everyone to get checked for oral cancer on a regular basis.”

After much study and contemplation, Susan decided that she would organize the David Nasto Memorial Walk for Oral Cancer, and donate all of the funds raised to the Oral Cancer Foundation. The first annual walk took place on September 27, 2008 just outside Andover, New Jersey, where David and Susan were raised. Susan started organizing the event in March, relying heavily on advice provided by Oral Cancer Foundation founder Brian Hill. “There’s no way I could have done this without Brian,” said Susan. “I learned so much from him about oral cancer, and about how to orchestrate an event like this. He guided me through every step of the way.”

And there were certainly a lot of steps involved. The event kicked off with a 9:00 am registration, where 85 registrants were given special t-shirts. For the next two hours, free oral cancer exams were conducted by three dentists. Then it was time for the walk, a two-mile stroll through scenic countryside in an area known as Perona Farms. Following the walk, lunch was served, including baked ziti, fruit, and hamburgers and hot dogs grilled by Susan’s husband, Harry Lauria. After lunch, an inspirational talk was given by Eva Grayzel, a 10-year oral cancer survivor, and five other oral cancer survivors in attendance were also introduced. The event concluded with a raffle of various gift cards, and an iPod was awarded to the person who recruited the most sponsors. All told, over $10,000 was raised, quite a feat for a first-time event.

Susan, who helps people for a living through her “On the Move” errand service, is quick to acknowledge the many people who helped her make this event such a success. Local stores donated all of the food as well as the raffled gift cards. CBS Outdoor donated a billboard that promoted the event for three months. Johnson & Johnson, where Susan’s aunt is employed, donated $2,500 in cash plus all of the t-shirts. And other family members also got into the act. Susan’s 91-year-old grandmother, who lives at the New Jersey shore where David Nasto once was a lifeguard, raised over $700 from the beach community through a letter-writing campaign. Susan’s mother made flyers for the event, and Susan’s sister who is 4 ½ months pregnant, flew in from Texas to work the registration desk. And Susan’s husband Harry and 15-year-old son Kevin provided much moral support throughout the entire planning process.

Susan is already thinking about her second annual walk, and she’s set a goal of raising twice as much money as the inaugural event raised. Fortunately, she’s already had several people volunteer to help her attain that goal. And speaking of volunteering, Susan has volunteered to help the Oral Cancer Foundation counsel other people who are organizing walks and other fund-raising events.

David Nasto was clearly an inspiration to his sister. And Susan Lauria is proving to be just as big of an inspiration to others, particularly to those who care deeply about reducing the incidence and impact of oral cancer. Brian Hill from OCF stated that “Susan’s passion was evident from the onset. It was clearly a labor of love, but beyond that, it was the realization that she personally could be part of positive change in the world while memorializing her brother. It think that her example, her ability to turn a tragedy into a positive that will impact others around her, raise awareness about a disease that we hear far too little about, and help fund outreach efforts that are remote from her local community through the funds donated to OCF, show her to be the kind of altruistic person person that we can all look up to. When our focus moves from the self to others, mountains can be moved. It was a privilege to be associated with her both personally and through the foundation in this effort. She is a remarkable lady.

The first year of an annual event to memorialize the life of David Nasto, lost to oral cancer in 2006, which will raise awareness of the disease, and help fund initiatives via OCF to reduce the burdens of this disease in the US. Local dentists will provide free oral cancer screenings at the registration site of the walk. The first 100 walkers will receive a free T-shirt.

About David Nasto

Surfer, snowboarder, cyclist, artist, outdoorsman, photographer, water skier, loving son, beloved brother, grandson, uncle and friend. These are just a few ways to describe David. He was a man who loved life to the fullest Always on some kind of adventure, he was off surfing in Costa Rica, or Hawaii, kayaking or canoeing, or snowboarding in Vermont. He approached everything passionately with his heart and soul. But most of all he was a kind and loving gentle man, with a heart of gold. All that changed in an instant in 2005 with the diagnosis of stage 4 tongue cancer. He fought a battle through chemotherapy, radiation and finally clinical trials. Even after losing his ability to eat or speak, dependent on a feeding tube, he never gave up. His lost his battle at age 47. David did not seek medical help until too late, and the purpose of this walk event is to raise awareness in people to get screened regularly and to seek medical/dental advice should something abnormal persist in your mouth for more than a couple of weeks. Screenings and an informed public will save lives. But you must be aware of the possibilities and engaged in an annual screening process. The family hopes that David’s battle and life can become a message that will help others avoid this terrible disease, or at worst find it at early curable stages.