PLAINFIELD – When Jennifer Martello answered the phone a year ago, it was her sister Natalie Martello calling from a quick care.
“They think I have mono,” she said.
Thirty minutes later, Natalie called Jennifer back. She didn’t have mononucleosis: The Plainfield resident had an aggressive leukemia.
“I thought, ‘No way could this be happening,’ ” said Jennifer, of Morris.
That was April 4, 2015. On Dec. 5, 2014, Natalie lost her husband, Gary, 52, to melanoma. Natalie and the couple’s four children – Eileen, 18, Teddy, 13, William, 10, and Charlie, 9 – were still grieving Gary’s death.
Natalie went by ambulance from quick care to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. She began treatment the next day. Over the next month, Natalie had two forms of chemotherapy.
In July, Natalie’s brother, Michael Hartmann of Chicago, donated stem cells for a transplant. Because of her fragile immune system, Natalie went to the Crest Hill home of her sister, Kathleen Maugeri, for the 100-day recovery period.
On Day 90, Natalie was out of remission. On Dec. 18, Natalie had a second stem cell transplant. She was 43 when she died Dec. 30.
Through everything, Natalie never complained.
“She always said, ‘It could be worse. It could be one of the kids,’ ” Jennifer said.
Kathleen said Natalie’s battle was more for her children than for herself.
“She kept saying, ‘I have to fight. I’m the last parent. I have to be there,’ ” Kathleen said.
Kathleen, who is two years older than Natalie, remembers her baby sister as the family clown, the daring child who rode her Big Wheel down the front steps.
Natalie was her own person, the type who wore goth clothing and dark lipstick in high school because it suited her style at the time, Jennifer said.
During her intense cancer battle, Natalie continued wearing her bold, bright lipstick and never lost her characteristic sense of humor.
“The Sunday before she died, she was cracking jokes,” Kathleen said.
As an adult, Natalie was a patient mother, Kathleen said. Jennifer said Natalie showed her children the importance of giving back by donating to various organizations, including the American Cancer Society.
Natalie’s main hobby was reading, Jennifer said, especially books relating to self-help.
“She wanted to better herself all the time,” Jennifer said. “She wanted to be more organized – although how can you be organized with four kids – a better mom, better at work, smarter.”
Although it’s hard to determine when Natalie realized her fight was ending, Kathleen and Jennifer said Natalie seemed serene during her last couple weeks.
And then something happened that told them Natalie knew.
When bringing Natalie home one night in December, Jennifer noticed a package had arrived with Natalie’s name on it. Jennifer asked Natalie if she wanted to open it, but Natalie shrugged off the question by saying, “It’s just a dress I ordered.”
“A couple days later we opened the box,” Jennifer said. “It was a black dress.”
A pasta dinner fundraiser for the Martello family will be from 5 to 7:30 p.m. April 23 at St. Mary Immaculate Parish, 15629 S. Illinois Route 59, Plainfield. Presales are preferred by April 9, although walk-ins are welcome.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for kids 10 and younger. Beverages and desserts will be available for $1 each. For tickets, call Trina Bank at 815-212-0056 or Karen Domabyl at 815-355-9304, or email email@example.com. For information or to donate, visit martellofundraiser.com.
• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.