By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette — As the co-owner of a Niagara Street restaurant, a hockey mom and Town of Lewiston employee, Ronda Koban-Sortore has met lots of people and made lots of friends.
Still, when her friends began planning a fundraiser to help with the astronomical costs of her battle against cancer, they were astounded at the response from the community.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Lori Caso, one of Ronda’s Lewiston neighbors, who is among those planning the event. “I’ve never seen anything like this ... We set a goal of a hundred baskets. We’re at 250,” she said, adding that the committee kept increasing the number of reverse drawing tickets available until they had to set the limit at 500 and then sold out.
“It’s a testament to her,” Caso added. “She’s a wonderful person and everybody is rallying behind her.”
Koban-Sortore’s best friend, Anne Marie DiMino-Hepfer, has been at her side throughout the battle, which began with a diagnosis of breast cancer five years ago. After treatments, Koban-Sortore was cancer-free until a year-and-a-half ago when she went for routine blood work and found out the cancer had returned and was in her liver, spine and lungs.
Beyond the pain and emotional challenges of the new diagnosis, the medical bills keep coming. “The whole thing upsets me,” DiMino-Hepfer said of the expenses. “I can see why people lose their houses. Here’s a person who never took anything from the system and now she has to. She has no choice.”
She said that Koban-Sortore also never wanted a fundraiser, but her friends decided to throw one anyway. The event will be held Friday at Lewiston-Porter High School, where Koban-Sortore’s son Zachary, 17, is a senior and plays on the school’s hockey team.
Koban-Sortore is reluctant to be the guest of honor, but said she is amazed at all the support she’s received. “It’s unbelievable,” she said during a recent phone interview. “There’s a lot of goodness around me — such kindness and love.”
Because she stayed at her job as a court clerk for the Town of Lewiston — arranging her chemotherapy session around her court schedule — and resigned only last October, she won’t be able to collect disability until May.
Koban-Sortore has worked hard her entire life, according to her friends. Prior to her time in Lewiston courts, she worked for 17 years for the Fireman’s Credit Union, in an office at Niagara Falls City Hall. She also worked nearly her whole life at her family’s Niagara Street restaurant, Koban’s, which will be closed Friday so all its patrons can attend the fundraiser.
Due to the many roads Koban-Sortore has travelled, she seems to have accumulated a wealth of friendships among many different types of people, from her Lewiston neighbors to the parents at her children’s schools, to her fellow employees.
Those on the fundraising committee are amazed that so many people want to help Koban-Sortore. And yet, even if it were possible, they cannot walk in her shoes — she wouldn’t let them. “I told her ‘I wish could take one day from you,’” DiMino-Hepfer said. Her friend replied, “No, I would never allow it.”
While Koban-Sortore’s cancer has metastasized, doctors are hoping to keep it at bay. They are escalating her chemotherapy treatments and every few weeks, she must have water drained from her swelling midsection to make it easier for her to move, a procedure that costs a $150 every time. The mother of two admits to holding off each visit for as long as possible, to keep the costs down.
Despite the challenges she faces, Koban-Sortore is very grateful for all those who has stood beside her, especially her daughter, Andrea, 12 — who sleeps each night near her mom’s hospital bed in the family’s living room — her husband, and her son. She hopes others facing challenges will be inspired by the unexpected outpouring of support she is receiving.
“Every day I’m here is a miracle and a gift … I know that cancer is cancer, but everyone has challenges on their life’s journey,” she said. “This is my journey and there are always people who have it worse.”
It’s that kind of attitude that inspires her friends. “She is a such a fighter, it’s unbelievable,” said DiMino-Hepfer. “She smiles, no matter what.”
The fundraiser will take place at 5 p.m. Friday at Lew-Port High School, 4061 Creek Road, Lewiston. The basket raffle is open to the public and the baskets will be displayed in the school lobby. The reverse raffle will take place in the cafeteria. There will also be 50/50 tickets sold at the junior varsity and varsity basketball games Friday and the proceeds will be donated to the Koban-Sortore Fund. Those who cannot attend but would like to contribute may mail checks made out to: “Benefit for Ronda Koban-Sortore,” 525 Vanderbilt Ave., Niagara Falls, NY 14305.