When her husband began readying for a deployment to Iraq with the New York National Guard in 2003, members of his unit asked Amy Maniscalco to organize a support network to address the needs and anxieties of their loved ones.
Guard leadership in Albany thought so highly of her volunteer work then that they made her one of their first hires in 2007 for their expanding Family Readiness program, said Andrew DePalo, the Guard's director of family programs.
Maniscalco, 37, of Staten Island, died at her parents' Staten Island home late Tuesday, according to her husband, Staff Sgt. Lou Maniscalco.
"She started a program with the 101st that became a model for the state," DePalo said of the program she organized for her husband's 1st Battalion, 101st Cavalry Guard unit. He said Maniscalco went on to train readiness volunteers across New York.
Before suffering a massive stroke last week, she had been detailing her battle with a rare form of cancer in a blog she kept -- "The Lynch Sisters's Incomplete Guide to Christianity, Cake and Cancer."
"I can say with a high degree of certainty the evil Queen spiked Snow White's apple with" chemotherapy drugs, she wrote of her treatment. "It's the type of fatigue where you take a nap on Monday at 3pm and wake up Thursday at noon."
Family Readiness Groups help relatives of troops in combat cope with the worries of those left behind. Soldier advocates say these groups are particularly vital to Guard and Reserve units on Long Island, who lack support facilities and social networks available to families near the nation's large military bases.
"It's tragic, not only for soldiers and families here, but all the way up," Beth Delli-Pizzi, who leads a Family Readiness Group on Long Island for the Guard's 69th Infantry Regiment, said of Maniscalco's death.
She said Maniscalco helped bring focus to the 69th's program as Long Island guard troops were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in 2009. "Whenever we had an issue, she was the person we would go to," she said.
Maniscalco, who grew up on Staten Island, met her husband through mutual friends. They married in 1990.
Maniscalco's last blog entry was March 18, in which she wrote of looking forward to continued chemotherapy treatments. "It just made me feel like I'm actively in the fight," she wrote, "doing something each week."
She also wrote of having gone out with friends, even though her therapy left her unable to drink alcohol. "Yeah, I got dressed up, put on makeup and had a coconut shake with a cherry garnish at a nice restaurant," she wrote, "while my girlfriends enjoyed big girl sangria."
In addition to her husband, she is survived by her parents, Michael and Josephine Reitano, and her brother, all of Staten Island.