Christine Carretta, Author
In 2018, Christine Carretta released a book entitled Ma soeur, sauvagement assassinée – which translates to “My Sister, Brutally Murdered”. In the 20 years since her younger sister Cathy’s murder, at the hands of her abusive ex-boyfriend Jean-Paul Gerbet, the Laval resident says her only hope is that her book will save a life.

“I hope this book will be used as a tool in Canada, in universities, to help defend women’s rights to safety,” Carretta says. Going into further detail, Carretta explains her sister’s murder wasn’t a case of domestic abuse, but rather, a case of femicide. “The problem, according to me, is that we put all this on domestic violence, but it’s more than that. It’s a deeper problem,” she explains. Cathy Carretta was strangled to death by her ex-boyfriend and according to Carretta, this is a tell-tale sign of femicide. “They don’t use guns. They don’t use knives. They strangle them,” she explains. “These men, they actually strangle their victims because they do not want them to speak.”

Much to Carretta’s dismay, her sister’s murderer was charged with second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder. This meant he would be eligible for parole after just 10 years. Gerbet’s initial requests for parole were denied, but after serving only 13 years in prison, Gerbet applied for parole again and it was granted. This brought on mixed feelings for Carretta. “There is no amount of time that can replace the person that you’ve lost. There is no amount of time that can compensate for that,” she says. “Then in another way, I felt relieved because I knew that he was going to leave the country. I would never come across him again.”

Upon parole, Gerbet was immediately ordered back to his native France where, according to Carretta, his Canadian criminal record did not follow him. “I wanted this book to go to France. I wanted people out there to know who Jean-Paul Gerbet is,” she says.

The loss of her younger sister was, and continues to be, a struggle for Carretta, but knowing she is fighting for a cause gives her the strength to keep on going. After a woman who was dating Gerbet in France came across Carretta’s book, she contacted her, and began to describe a horrifying story of abuse at the hands of the man who had taken Cathy Carretta’s life nearly 20 years ago. Only then did Carretta get a clearer picture of the violence her sister must have endured prior to her murder and began to understand how the term femicide related to her situation. “That’s when I started reading about it and understanding the procedure that these men use to destroy women. They do not love women. They do not like women,” Carretta explains.

In the hopes of educating people and protecting women’s safety, Carretta is considering writing a follow-up book. Her goal is to give women a voice and to help others understand how to spot the warning signs and possibly save a life.

Patricia Durante, Survivor
Today, Patricia Durante is a regular Laval wife and mother, living with her husband and 17-year-old daughter, Victoria Angel. In 2001, her reality was very different. Durante and her husband were initially thrilled to be expecting their first child together, but that quickly changed when a routine ultrasound uncovered that Durante was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML). Durante went through chemotherapy treatments and fell into remission, but after only two months, her cancer had returned. Just 31 weeks into her pregnancy, Durante was induced and Victoria Angel was born.

In the weeks leading up to her delivery, Durante had done some research about cord blood transplants and suggested to her doctors that she use her daughter’s cord blood to treat her disease. “When I heard about cord blood after reading about it in a pregnancy book called Pregnancy to Parenthood, I remember thinking, ‘This is it! Oh my God! This is my cure. My baby is meant to save my life,’” Durante says.

Durante’s doctors didn’t share her enthusiasm. The procedure had never been done before and they did not think it would work for her. Her oncologists encouraged her to standby for an adult donor who was more likely to be a better match. However, after failing to find a donor who could save Durante’s life, using Victoria Angel’s cord blood was her only hope – even though it was only a 50 per cent match for her. Thankfully, the procedure worked and Durante’s cancer was completely cured.

No matter what you are facing, Durante encourages women – and all people – to stay positive, even when it’s seemingly too difficult. “My best advice is to always stay positive no matter what your situation. I believe your mind set has a lot to do with it. You should never give up, no matter what.”

With her second chance at life, Durante intended to live each day to the fullest and that’s exactly what she has been doing for the last 17 years. “My experience changed me. Going through such a difficult time taught me what really matters in life. It puts everything into perspective,” she explains. “I am very grateful for everyday. I do what makes me happy. I am kind to myself and love myself so I am able to love others. I try to surround myself with positivity. When you focus on the good things in your life you can’t help but be a happy and positive person.”

Antonina Lucia, Fighter
Antonina Lucia is a Laval mother of three. Her middle son, Julian Miozzi, is now 25 years old. He makes her laugh just about every day and his kind spirit drives the whole family. It’s almost impossible to believe that when Miozzi was just two and a half years old, doctors told Lucia he would never develop language and would likely need to be institutionalized at some point in his life.

Miozzi was diagnosed with autism in a time when most people still didn’t know what the word even meant. Lucia and her husband, Joe, had certainly never heard the term before and were at a loss for ways to help him. Lucia joined a parent-child activity group, but it wasn’t at all what she expected. “All the other kids were following and he was just screaming and yelling and I had to just hold him down,” Lucia explains. “Everybody would say, ‘don’t worry he’ll be ok,’ or ‘he’s just not used to it,’ but it wasn’t like that,” she says.

After meeting with several neurologists and specialists, Lucia was told there was no hope for her son, which instantly had her in tears. That night, she tucked her son in to bed and sang him the usual lullaby, as she did every night. “He was looking into my eyes and he was following me with his lips. He wasn’t saying the words out loud but I knew there was something in there,” Lucia says. “That was one of my signs.”

Determined to ensure her son’s success, Lucia began a desperate search for help. She started by hiring a speech therapist who would work with her son roughly nine hours per week. Then she saw an episode of David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things, and discovered what was then-called the Lovaas Program, an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). Today, this program is known for achieving great success with autistic patients. At the time, Lucia felt alone in her decisions, but says her instincts guided her through. “Just because a doctor says it, doesn’t make it true. They don’t know your child like you do,” she says.

In spite of Miozzi’s bleak diagnosis, Lucia began the Lovaas Program with her son and made it a part of their everyday life – every moment of every day. “When I started doing it, I knew it had to be non-stop. I had to teach him constantly,” Lucia explains of her efforts to teach Julian language skills. “You have to do the work. You have to push.”

Miozzi eventually learned to speak, and attended a regular elementary school and high school. Today, he is working toward obtaining his high school diploma. He may have achieved the goal later than his peers, but for a child who was never expected to speak, Miozzi has come a long way. Without a doubt, Lucia’s persistence and unwavering faith in her child are to credit for her son’s success. “I believed there was a person in my child and I could see him. I just had to make him come out.”

Lucia knows an autism mom doesn’t have an easy path to follow, but she has some advice for other women in her shoes. “Don’t ever give up and don’t ever stop hoping.” Lucia believes autism parents need to support one another to get through the experience, but she firmly believes hard work and determination can make all the difference.

Catherine Papachristou, Determined
By Kathy Tsolakos
Catherine Papachristou is the woman behind one of the most recognized real estate firms in Laval today. She says the secrets to her success are simple: hard work, relentless perseverance and her love of family. Though the road to success has had its share of challenges, Papachristou believes the journey has helped shape her into who she is today.

Daughter, mother, grandmother, award-winning real estate professional and philanthropist are just some of the titles that characterize Papachristou. She has managed, through her humble beginnings as the daughter of immigrant parents, to weather the storms of raising a young family on her own, all while building one of the most successful real estate offices in Quebec. As any parent knows, raising children is a challenge in and of itself. Raising children as a single parent while trying to build a career? That’s an even greater challenge.

“It wasn’t always easy,” admits Papachristou. “I was blessed with supportive parents who were my biggest influence and supporters. They taught me to give without expecting and to always do my best.” Papachristou, who grew up in the Plateau, made the move to Laval in the early 1980s to begin a new chapter of her life, which included a new career and, eventually, raising her two children alone.

Caring for her children as a single parent while holding down two jobs to make ends meet didn’t deter her from her goals. In fact, it’s exactly what gave her the drive to keep on going. “You discover this superhuman strength you didn’t know you had,” Papachristou explains. “I never lost faith in myself and in my children. Hard work, persistence and believing in myself; that kept me moving forward.”

Papachristou knew developing her career wouldn’t be easy with two children who needed her, but she also knew this career path was more than just a job. It was her passion. “Right at the beginning of my career, I just knew,” she explains. “The feeling of making a difference in the lives of others gives me an inexplicable high.” Papachristou credits her success to her empathetic personality, communication skills, and an openness to always continue learning.

Papachristou feels women – who often juggle many roles, just like she has – need more recognition. “It’s imperative and so important to be proud and to celebrate our resilience every single day,” says Papachristou. She encourages women to look forward to the future as they work toward their own goals. “Youth is great, but being where I am today, young at heart with my acquired wisdom is so much greater.”