Single mom's cancer fight extends throughout Bradenton community

rdymond@bradenton.comMarch 11, 2014 

Pinu Munoz is battling stage four breast cancer with a strong support group behind her, including her daughters, Melina, 11, left, and Gianna, 8. Friends of Munoz are holding a fundraiser for her March 22 at Carmen's Italian Cafe, 515 27th St. E., Bradenton. PROVIDED PHOTO

BRADENTON -- Last August, Pinu Munoz, 35, a single mother with two girls, had been having agonizing back pain to the point where it finally drove her to a chiropractor.

After three months with no relief, Munoz asked the chiropractor if he could take some X-rays of her back.

She got a call back a day or so later.

"You have lesions in your bones," a doctor told her. "You need to see an oncologist right away."

Kay Rizzo, Munoz's stepmother, remembers the day vividly.

"Our lives were sucked up in a tornado that day," Rizzo said. "We learned that Pinu has stage four breast cancer that has spread to her skull, her hip, her pelvic area, all over."

Rizzo, whose husband, Carmen, is Munoz's father and the driving force behind the popular Carmen's Italian Cafe at 515 27th St. E., Bradenton, has a special relationship with her stepdaughter.

"I told her: 'I am your warrior and we will win this fight,' " Rizzo said. "I told her I am in it the whole way."

Others have since shown they want to be in it the whole way with Munoz, too.

Family friend, Dori Giglio-Bridger, started "Pinu Munoz & Girls Foundation," a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to raise money to help care for and provide an education for Munoz's girls, Melina, 11, and Giana, 8.

The Pinu Munoz & Girls Foundation is staging a fund-raising event from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at Carmen's Italian Cafe.

The event will feature music by Taylor & Taylor from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the KCSSD hip hop dancers from 1-1:30 p.m.' Critter Ridge, a Southern rock band, from 2-5 p.m.; and Shot Gun Justice, a classic rock band, from 6-9 p.m.

There will also be food and beverages for sale from the cafe and live and silent auction items, including a NASCAR front-end clip signed by the Wood Brothers, Hall of Fame racers and Elliot Sadler.

Other items include trips, trees from Turner Tree & Landscape, limo and dinner packages, gift baskets and jewelry.

There will also be a family play area with face painting.

"Pinu Munoz doesn't have the means to provide for her children and all the medical treatments and medicines to continue her fight," Giglio-Bridger said. "This is why we are asking the community to come out and support cancer awareness and help bring a community together. The journey will be long, but not without hope."

Giglio-Bridger, a patron of Carmen's Italian Cafe, happened to ask Rizzo how things were going a few months ago, not knowing about Munoz's illness.

"Kay broke down," Giglio-Bridger said. "I told her I would do whatever I could do. I own a printing and direct mail company in Sarasota."

Giglio-Bridger is also moved, as many are, by Munoz herself.

"She's a sweet girl, a beautiful girl," Giglio-Bridger said. "She always has a smile on her face. I look at her and on the outside she looks beautiful. You would never know until she stands up. Then, you see the pain."

Rizzo said she doesn't know exactly how it happened, but she developed, over the 10 years they have known each other, a love for Munoz as if she were her own flesh-and-blood daughter.

Munoz and her daughters have moved into the Rizzo's home since she could no longer walk up the stairs of her apartment.

"She is the most beautiful woman, inside and out," Rizzo said of Munoz. "Doctors often say to her, 'How can you have a smile on your face?' She is such a truly good person. I don't think anyone can say anything bad about her.

"I am always saying to her, 'Come on, we have to do something fun,' " Rizzo added.

Gianna asked Munoz recently: "Mommy, how do people die from cancer?"

Munoz broke down when she told Rizzo what her young daughter had asked. How does one respond?

"You never lie to a child," Rizzo said. "But their innocence takes you aback. They are curious. They do know mommy has cancer. They want to know more. Melina is the little mother. They are both very close to Pinu. They've been making pink-and-white bracelets for the fundraiser. They are very much aware."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.

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