Connie Camp Ribera of Cranston can’t recall ever having a birthday cake for her mother, Sheila Ann Carver Camp, who passed away in 1978 from breast cancer at the age of 33. Ribera had just turned 4 at the time.
Ribera, inspired by her 3-year-old daughter Ella, has found a way to celebrate her mother and for everyone to celebrate birthdays while raising funds to benefit the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation.
“My mom would have been 68 years old this October 1st. I don't remember celebrating her birthday with her, but I do know how I tended to feel on that occasion. Not this year,” she said. “I can't think of a better reason to celebrate my mom's birthday than to do something that will raise money to help continue funding an organization that tirelessly helps to raise awareness and prevention of the very thing that took her life so many years ago.”
In honor of her mother and other breast cancer patients, survivors and caretakers, Ribera is now offering the Pink Velvet Cupcake for purchase from now until Sept. 21. Customers can purchase a baker's dozen of Gourmet Pink Velvet Cupcakes (red velvet cupcakes turned pink) for a $20 donation to the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation through a special page for sales at pinkvelvetcupcakesale.eventbrite.com.
“Ella, being her age, is still wrapping her mind around the idea that she has two grandmothers who are no longer with us due to cancer and doesn’t understand the concept that death is final on this Earth,” said Ribera. “You would think being a mother of three, having been through this explanation two times before, I would have this story down pat. Not with Ella. She asked one night where grandma was, and I explained to her very simply that she became very sick, the doctors couldn’t help her anymore and she died.”
Her daughter replied, “No, mommy, she’ll be back soon. Don’t worry.” The more Ribera explained to her daughter, her daughter insisted that her “grandma” would be back.
“After the 37th time she said it, I began crying; after 34 years still crying like she had just died last year. My 6-year-old, Hannah, in an attempt to appease her sister, said that grandma’s birthday was coming up soon and they could celebrate. Now we celebrate half-birthdays in my house as well as full-fledged birthdays,” said Ribera.
In addition to Ella and Hannah, Ribera also has a 14-year-old son, Crosby, who attends Cranston High School East.
Ribera’s mother started the tradition of half-birthdays when she knew she was sick. It was an attempt to give everyone a chance to remember her and who she was. The tradition in the household remains the same today.
“My daughter, Ella, said ‘Mommy, that’s what you need to do! We need to have cake and presents for grandma,’” Ribera recalled.
At that time, after a little research and a clever recipe, the idea for Pink Velvet Cupcakes was born.
It was almost 34 years after her mother’s passing that Ribera met Maria Gemma Corcelli, Lynn Simon and Gary Calvino with the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation.
“I wanted to do something for them and had wanted to get involved ever since I met Maria through Facebook. My better half, Everett McCurdy, was getting into the business of designing mobile applications for smart phones and wanted to put one together to give away. I begged him to do it for the Gloria Gemma Foundation. I didn’t know why my heart was being pulled in that direction, but I just begged him and begged him until he realized how important it was to me. He offered his services and we scheduled a meeting with Maria and the Foundation,” said Ribera.
The meeting took place as Ribera, McCurdy and Ella in tow met with the Gemma Foundation located in Pawtucket.
“Maria warmly greeted Everett and me, and Ella was just taken with Maria. We were led into the conference room, and the first thing I noticed when I walked in was a quilt hanging on the wall made by survivors of breast cancer. I never mentioned this at the time, but that quilt reminded me of a much prettier version of the one that was made for me by a neighbor after my mom passed away from a pile of her old clothing,” Ribera said.
A hurricane had taken that memory away from Ribera, yet she remembers it like it was yesterday. She remembers the details from that initial meeting too, and said the Gemma Foundation’s compassion stuck with her.
“Maria and Lynn explained that what they did was about more than just collecting a check and putting it toward programs they were providing, such as the Hope Bus or Yoga Classes for survivors. There was a very human side to each and every story for people who have become involved with the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Research [Resource] Foundation,” she said. “It’s hard to explain unless you’ve sat in that conference room and had this same conversation with these phenomenal folks, but what I will say is that you could literally feel the power of what these folks were trying to do for the community.”
As Ella climbed up on Maria’s lap, embraced her before they had left, Ribera knew she would not be the same after that meeting. After suffering the loss of her mother for 34 years, Ribera took a cue from the Gemma Foundation and decided to share her mother’s legacy, and maybe help save another young woman or comfort another child who has lost a parent to cancer.
“By all accounts, my mom was one of those everyday heroes who impacted the lives of those around her quietly and humbly. To me, she was simply my mom. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about her, see a little glimmer of her personality in my own children and realize just how lucky I was to have even had her in my life,” said Ribera.
In addition to her production and sale of the Pink Velvet Cupcakes, Ribera is also running for the first time in the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation 5K on Oct. 7, the final day of the Flames of Hope in downtown Providence. She has joined forces with the Pink Angels Team in an attempt to raise money and awareness for the Foundation.