Valerie J. Serio, a former paralegal and homemaker who during her four-year struggle with breast cancer became an inspiration to all who knew her, died of the disease Tuesday at her Ellicott City home. She was 48.
She was born Valerie J. Smith in Washington and raised in Mitchellville. She was a 1976 graduate of Largo High School, where she played varsity volleyball.
After graduation from the Washington School for Secretaries, where she studied to become a paralegal, Mrs. Serio worked for the next 14 years at the Washington law firm of Foley and Lardner.
In 1986, she married Samuel E. Serio, vice president of sales and marketing for Automotive Development Group, a company that trains financial and insurance personnel working in the automotive industry.
Mrs. Serio quit working in 1990 and settled into the role of being a mother and raising her children. She established play groups, volunteered at her children's schools and became a team mother for their football and lacrosse teams.
"When she was diagnosed in 2002, she had stage IV breast cancer," her husband said. "It eventually spread to her right hip, bones and liver. She underwent chemotherapy for four straight years."
"She was so strong and an inspiration to everyone, and no matter how difficult things became, she always had a smile and plenty of laughter," said her sister Katherine M. Smith, a Laurel interior designer whose own breast cancer was diagnosed in 1995. "We were always there for each other and it's so difficult being without her. She was an angel and my best friend."
"When Valerie found out that she had breast cancer, she embraced it and never asked, 'Why me?' She was proud to wear the pink ribbon, seldom cried and fought her disease with style and grace," said Ana C. Lazarides, a longtime friend.
Mrs. Serio refused to be held back by her illness. She became an active member in cancer support groups and participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
"She was a woman who had a strong and inspiring faith who had found peace during her illness. She had a peace that radiated from her during her suffering," said the Rev. Jim Sorra, assistant pastor of Mrs. Serio's church, St. Louis Roman Catholic Church in Clarksville.
At the oncology center where she went weekly for treatment, Mrs. Serio raised the spirits of other patients with her positive and upbeat outlook.
"She once told a cancer patient, 'They can take it all, except they can't take my hope,'" her husband said.
"When my wife, Geri, was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, Val's hopes and beliefs had a great impact on how we dealt with my wife's cancer. She had a beautiful view of life and plenty of smiles," said Neil Desmond, a co-worker of Mr. Serio's. "While we were dealing with our initial fears, she showed us optimism and how to deal with fear. She simply refused to give into fear and that inspired us."
"I've spent the last two nights crying. She was such a special person and she had an aura about her. A few weeks ago, she said she was the 'luckiest person in the world,' because she had 'a wonderful husband, children, and a lovely old house,'" said Don Dimpero, a longtime friend. "That girl touched so many people's lives either directly or indirectly."
Mrs. Serio enjoyed shopping, entertaining and giving dinner parties.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at her church, 12500 Clarksville Pike.
Also surviving are a son, Dominic R. Serio, 15; a daughter, Gemma C. Serio, 14; her mother, Helen M. Smith of Annapolis; two brothers, Stephen J. Smith of Gaithersburg and Brian W. Smith of Danville, Ohio; another sister, Helen L. Allen of Frederick; and many nieces and nephews.