After nearly 30 years together, raising three children and building several businesses, Mary and Angelo Vayas have gone through their share of struggles.
But the Maplewood couple is now facing the biggest challenge of their lives.
Mary and Angelo — who own the Village Trattoria restaurants and No. 165 — appeared on the Dr. Oz show Tuesday to discuss Angelo’s battle with a rare form of brain cancer called Glioblastoma Multiforme, or GBM. Since his diagnosis in August of 2013, Angelo has undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to combat the aggressive tumor.
Although there is no cure for the disease, the Vayases are determined to fight it for as long as they can, they told Oz, who called it “one of the most devastating diagnoses” in medicine.
“I love him and I will love him forever, and we’re going to fight through this together,” Mary said, looking at her smiling husband.
In honor of the Vayases, Oz launched the Shine a Light Challenge (#shinealightchallenge) to bring awareness to brain cancer. He is asking people to take selfies while holding a light bulb over their heads, tag three friends and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #shinealightchallenge.
The goal is to encourage people to donate to the American Brain Tumor Association, to fund research and treatment and to find cures.
The Maplewood Village Alliance hosted a viewing party and benefit at St. James’s Gate Tuesday afternoon, which raised $1,100, said MVA manager Julie Doran.
(Check out the photo gallery below, photos courtesy of the MVA. Click any photo to begin).
“It felt so good” to see so many friends supporting them, said Mary in a phone interview. “Angelo was shocked,” she said. “He doesn’t know the magnitude of his effect on people.”
They were both thrilled to see recently retired DPW director Eric Burbank and his son Ryan, who was paralyzed in an accident in 2012. When Angelo was diagnosed, Ryan called to thank him for everything he had done for him and others, and to ask if there was anything he could do to help him, Mary said.
After the incredible success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which brought increased awareness and millions of dollars to combat that disease, Mary wanted to do something similar for brain cancer.
“Brain tumors really don’t get as much funding as other cancers,” she said.
Through a local connection, the Vayas family — which also includes their three sons, ages 28, 27 and 19 — came to the attention of the Dr. Oz Show, who wanted to feature them in a segment about brain cancer.
On the show, Mary describes Angelo’s diagnosis with the “horrific” disease, saying he is a different person than he was before he became ill. However, the couple is determined to be strong despite tremendous adversity. “We’re not going to let this beat us,” said Mary in the segment. “We’re going to make sure we give it our all. We have to. We promised each other.”
The family has so far raised more than $20,000 for the cause, from benefits held at No. 165 and participating in a Voices Against Brain Cancer walk this fall. But Mary is hoping to raise much more.
“I hope people will take the challenge and go to the ABTA [website] and donate,” she told The Village Green. There are numerous ways to give, including one-time gifts, monthly donations, participation in events, workplace giving and more.
Mary said she is amazed by Maplewood’s generosity. “We are pretty private and don’t like to ask for much,” she said. “This is truly an amazing town; there is so much love.”