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Friends turn shared tragedy into chance to tackle cancer

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Photo gallery

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Maria Di Fava (l.-r., back row), Alexandra Beschel, Jared Beschel, Marco Di Fava, Christina Di Fava and Anna Murray are joined by youngsters Jared Beschel Jr. (l.-r., front row), Ali Hoering and Maria Di Fava. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Joseph Purificato, whose sister Tina Di Fava died of breast cancer, explains a poster to Ali Hoering and Jared Beschel Jr. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Anna Murray hugs youngsters GianCarlo and Maria Di Fava. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Co-organizer Jared Beschel waves to the camera. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Jared Beschel (r.) is joined by relatives Barry and Jo Ann Beschel. Photo by Christina Santucci

The scene could have been just a typical Sunday in late September — family and friends gathered at an Irish bar, watching football surrounded by copious amounts of food and drink.

Laughter filled the barroom at Monahan & Fitzgerald, on 41st Avenue in Bayside, as patrons patted each other on the back, dealt some good-natured ribbing and clanged bottles together in cheers.

But the cheers were more than the product of a timely touchdown or game-saving tackle. Two men connected by devastating loss used this Sunday to raise money, awareness and their spirits.

Marco Di Fava and Jared Beschel always had a lot in common. They both attended Oneonta State University, then moved on to Hofstra Law School. And they both had their relatively tranquil lives torn apart when disease ravaged family members.

Doctors diagnosed Di Fava’s mother, Tina, with breast cancer in 2008 — Beschel’s father, William, received the same diagnosis soon after. Both were taken by the aggressive cancer, leaving Di Fava and Beschel with a connection they never expected.

That connection brought their friends and family together on this day to help raise money for the American Cancer Society.

“If I could make a career out of this, I would,” said Di Fava, who grew up in Ozone Park. “I do it for the memory of my mother — she was a fun-loving person who enjoyed life.”

Di Fava recalled his mother’s love for gambling, something he will honor when he participates in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk later this month under the team name “Tina’s Jackpot.” This will be his third year walking.

His experience with the pain of watching a loved one endure cancer enabled Di Fava to truly be there for Beschel when his father, a well-known Whitestone man and retired police officer, suffered from the same disease.

“We talked a lot,” recalled Di Fava. “It really helps to have someone to lean on.”

Beschel said the shock of learning his father had breast cancer was a feeling he could barely describe. It just did not seem possible.

“You always hear that women should routinely check themselves for breast cancer, but men should take precautions as well,” he said. “I miss him every day, and it was hard watching him through those years of chemotherapy.”

Beschel’s aunt, Jo Ann, said losing her brother to breast cancer was heartbreaking — but watching her nephew and his friend work together for this cause is a healing, therapeutic experience.

“It is hard to be here, but seeing this turnout really warms my heart,” she said. “Jared and Marco were always very close and both deaths were such a shock to all of us — it never occurred to either family that something like that would happen.”

Di Fava’s aunt, Anna Murray, who put together a cookbook of Italian favorites called “Zi Anna’s Kitchen” with all profits going to cancer research, said both families would rather take action then be furious at life’s tragic happenstance.

“It is better to raise awareness than to be angry,” she said. “These two men choose to work together to fight this disease. And we are all very proud of them.”

This not-so-typical Sunday in late September raised close to $5,000 for cancer research through raffles and other activities, giving Di Fava and Beschel one more commonality among them: the master planning of a fund-raiser.

“We had people here early, and we will have more people coming in as the night goes on,” said Di Fava during the fund-raiser. He said holding the event on a Sunday, when the New York Jets played early and the New York Giants played late, ensured that crowds would keep coming in all day and all night.

“There is a method to my madness,” he said.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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