Her Mother's Daughter: Cara Scanio Spreads Hope After Tragic Loss


Cara Scanio scored six goals for Hofstra during the 2022 season.

It wasn’t a request a coach expects to hear from a college student in the 2020s.

The Hofstra women’s lacrosse team was down in Florida. Junior midfielder Cara Scanio appeared in Shannon Smith’s office. She needed a stamp. 

As a player at Northwestern, Smith was one of the greatest goal scorers in NCAA history. In this instance, she showed a level of preparedness that reminded one that she also dished out more than 100 assists. The coach had stamps in her wallet. She handed one over. Scanio asked for a few more. 

“Why do you need so many?” the coach asked.

Sciano had been writing letters to families facing grief. There were a lot of messages to send. Just because her team was in Florida, it didn’t mean her mission was going to be put on hold. It was classic Scanio.

“She’s always looking out for people,” Smith said. “Always working on the next thing.”

She learned it from her mother.

Suzanne Scanio was an elementary school teacher. A welcoming mother figure who would have students she didn’t even teach stop by her room just to chat. She was always smiling. Relentlessly positive. A shining light to so many who knew her. 

“She could take over a room and make everyone feel like they were the most important person,” Cara Scanio said. “She had that kind of personality.”

Suzanne Scanio was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer in the summer of 2019. She died a year later. 

Her family was caught off guard. There is no playbook for navigating grief. What struck Cara Scanio was how many people stepped up for her family in its darkest time.

“We had so much kindness and support to help us get through it,” she said. “We were trying to think of a way to put all that positive energy into our grief.”

Cara’s family — her father, Chuck, and her brothers, Thomas and Chris — soon founded the Suzanne M. Scanio Foundation (@SuzanneMScanioFoundation on Instagram) to spread kindness to families dealing with grief. They hold fundraisers, dinners and events and send checks to support families dealing with grief. They also write them letters. They are messages of hope and solidarity to let strangers know they don’t have to endure tragedy alone.

“You’re going to learn and grow from every single thing that happens in your life,” Cara Scanio said. “It’s not always as negative as it might seem. Everyone deals with grief in their own way. You have to. There’s no wrong way to grieve. There’s no right way to grieve.”

For the Scanios, the right way to grieve was to become a beacon for others who are struggling. After all, it’s what Suzanne would have done.

“My mom really loved to help people,” Cara Scanio said. “That was always her thing. She put everyone else before herself. She was always so grateful, and this was just the best thing for our family. It’s been really helpful for me. It’s my favorite thing, honestly.”

Scanio is studying to become a nurse, a change inspired by all that happened with her mom, but one day in early September, she started doing some math. In around a year, the foundation had raised $36,128 for families all over the country.

“That’s a really rewarding number,” she said. 

Cara Scanio has always been her mother’s daughter. She co-runs Hofstra’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization and helped to organize Hofstra’s involvement in Morgan’s Message, which strives to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health in the athlete community. In high school on Long Island, she was named Massapequa’s Unsung Hero after she rallied back from a torn ACL. Her return to the field was a moment her teammates said made their entire season. Kate Fiola, who played both high school and college lacrosse with Scanio, said it gave her chills.

Scanio was chosen to receive the Colonial Athletic Association’s John H. Randolph Inspiration Award, an honor once won by the late Hofstra men’s player Nick Colleluori and given to players whose human spirit inspires others. In the spring, she was presented with the NCAA’s Yeardley Reynolds Love Unsung Hero Award, which goes to players who make an impact beyond goals and ground balls.

“She’s everything you would want in a teammate, a friend, a daughter,” Smith said. “Her mom was the exact same way. She was this incredible person. So kind. So humble,”

“She was just like Cara,” Fiola said. “Bubbly. Friendly. Always willing to help.”

It’s a comparison that her daughter embraces.

“I’ve heard it a lot more since she passed,” Scanio said. “I love hearing that.”

Throughout everything, Scanio never let grief change who she was.

“Not once did Cara become cold or uncaring,” Smith said. “It was just the opposite. She persevered with so much grace and gratitude. It makes me want to be a better person every day.”

Positivity runs in the family, but there were certainly bad days. Scanio was so close with her mother, and there is no way to prepare for such a loss.

“It wasn’t necessarily the big days — birthdays, anniversaries, holidays — it was the random days that were difficult,” Scanio said. “Being on a team and having 35 best friends to pick me up was really helpful.”

If Scanio was having a really bad day, Fiola, her suitemate, would relay the message that she needed some space and might be late for practice. She was never away from her team for long.

“It’s incredible,” Fiola said. “Her showing up to the field every day. She really played for Suzanne. That inspired us.”

The team affixed stickers in honor of her mother to their sticks. Fiola writes Suzanne Scanio’s initials on her stick before every game. Her family and friends are living on her legacy and her memory.

The foundation has established a scholarship in her name at Unqua Elementary, where she taught for two decades, and another at St. John the Baptist, where she went to high school. The foundation has allowed the Scanios to stay in touch with Suzanne’s family, friends and all those she loved. They are spreading a message to those going through tragedy that it’s OK to hold their heads up high.

“She’d love that everyone was doing all these things in her honor,” Scanio said. “She’d be happy that her friends were taking such a sad loss and making it positive. That’s exactly what she would have wanted.”

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