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Lauren Terrazzano, 39; reporter wrote of her battle with cancer

Lauren Terrazzano was a reporter for Newsday. Lauren Terrazzano was a reporter for Newsday. (Associated Press/file 2006)

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- Lauren Terrazzano, a tough but compassionate Newsday reporter who received praise from cancer survivors as well as professional accolades for chronicling her own three-year bout with lung cancer, has died. She was 39.

Her death on Tuesday night at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan was announced to the Newsday staff yesterday in a letter from editor John Mancini.

"She was well loved by her many friends and colleagues in the newsroom and a formidable presence in the lives of the people in the communities she covered," Mancini said.

Ms. Terrazzano, who grew up in Massachusetts and got her first reporting job at the Patriot Ledger, according to Newsday, worked at the New York Daily News and the Record in Hackensack, N.J., before joining Newsday in 1996.

She graduated from high school in Tewksbury and earned a bachelor's degree from Boston University, according to Newsday. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 1994.

Described by colleagues as a tenacious, hard-nosed street reporter, Ms. Terrazzano covered a variety of beats, most recently as a child welfare and social services reporter. She began writing the column, "Life, With Cancer," in October 2006.

She wrote about the inappropriate things people say to cancer patients because they don't know what else to say and about breaking the myth that people with cancer are heroes, "when really we're just like everyone else."

Ms. Terrazzano, who wrote in an April 17 column that she had smoked on and off for about five years, also took shots at the tobacco marketers, opined about the battle with cancer waged by Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, and about the stress the disease has on loved ones.

"My goal was to tackle the taboo subjects of the disease that the mainstream media often fails to do," Ms. Terrazzano said. "We so often cover the news aspects of cancer: the scientific breakthrough or even the sob story, yet there are so many other avenues that go unexplored."

Although she said she used the column to vent her own frustrations with cancer, it quickly won praise from others in the same situation.

"Her column has increased awareness to the challenges that we all face," Karen Joy Miller, a breast cancer survivor who heads a support group in Huntington, said in a recent Associated Press profile of Ms. Terrazzano.

"It allows a lot of people who are reticent to tap into their own feelings and insecurities," she said.

Ms. Terrazzano's column won the top prize this year in the science- health reporting category of a contest run by the Silurians, the oldest press club in the United States. The award ceremony was scheduled for tonight.

The Newswomen's Club of New York cited her column for outstanding achievement, and she was also named the recipient of the 2007 Joanie Award from the Joan Scarangello Foundation to Conquer Lung Cancer.

"Lauren did not go quietly," Mancini said. "She brought to the column her reporting zeal and an unflinching determination to describe her situation accurately. This doggedness was no news to her doctors."

She leaves her husband, Al Baker, a reporter with The New York Times. They recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary. Also at her bedside when she died were her parents, Virginia and Frank Terrazzano, of Hull.