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Michael G. Puinno, cancer survivor inspired others Dec. 7, 1952 -- March 20, 2011

Michael G. Puinno, a pancreatic cancer survivor who lived with the disease for a remarkable eight years and inspired others with his giving spirit and sunny disposition, died of heart failure Sunday in his home in Niagara Falls, Ont. He was 58.

Born in Niagara Falls, Ont., Mr. Puinno moved with his family to Depew at a young age and graduated from Depew High School in 1970. He moved to New Orleans in 1981 and returned to Niagara Falls, Ont., in 1997 but worked for Ingram Micro in Amherst from 2000 to 2003, when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

In January 2007, The Buffalo News wrote a story about him, showcasing his optimistic attitude toward life at a Locks of Love charity event held in his honor at St. Mary's Elementary School in Lancaster.

At the time, he'd been through six rounds of chemotherapy and was preparing for a second surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute but said he had no intention of making any final arrangements for himself because he had no intention of dying.

He asked a hairstylist at the Locks of Love event to give him a mohawk as an act of rebellion against the disease. He went on to live four more years and broke numerous "deadlines" set for him by doctors regarding his demise.

"You know," he said, "people say, 'I don't want to give you false hope.' How can hope be false?' "

Though Mr. Puinno spent much of his life in pain, he rarely let it show and would tell people he felt "great" no matter his condition, said his wife, Cheryl.

The Locks of Love event, which included participation by 36 students who donated their hair to make wigs for patients undergoing cancer treatment, was organized by Mr. Puinno's sister Jean Ferry, a teacher at the school who died Feb. 3 of brain cancer at age 56.

"When she got sick, she told Mike, 'You are my inspiration,' " Cheryl Puinno recalled.

She added that her husband could have lived many more years if chemotherapy hadn't injured his heart. She pointed out that it wasn't cancer that killed him in the end.

"With his attitude and spirit, he could have lived another 10 years with that," she said.

When Mr. Puinno lived in New Orleans, he started a Boy Scout troop for children living in housing projects who had never had a good male role model. Thanks to him, one of them went onto college, Cheryl Puinno said.

For more than 20 years, he also coached youth baseball. He was also a member of two high IQ societies, Mensa and Intertel.

Aside from his wife, Mr. Puinno is survived by three sons, Charles, Matthew and Jacob; two daughters, Catherine Puinno and Sarah Schilk; two sisters, Patricia Osetinsky and Sue Harris; and a brother, Joseph.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 1 p.m. Thursday in Our Lady of the Scapular Catholic Church, 6557 Thorold Stone Road, Niagara Falls, Ont.

-- Sandra Tan

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