I apologize for the grainy quality of this photo, and if you aren’t blinded by the red terrycloth shorts on the super stylish far right circa 1983, you’ll note a beautiful young woman in pink. This is my cousin, Michelle, who passed away from pediatric leukemia maybe a year or two after this picture was taken. Also featured in this photo is my brother Greg, the short one in front, and my two Rhode Island cousins, Paul and Brian. Michelle lived in Florida with her mom, my Aunt Rosie, but she was extra special to me as she was the only “girl cousin” on my mom’s side of the family. Besides grandparents, she was also the first person in my life to die before she was supposed to.
This weekend, our dear friend Matt, along with countless others, will cycle across Massachusetts raising awareness and funding for research to find a cure for cancer. His wife, Michelle, also a scientist, has her name actually patented on specific drugs now used to fight the battle. Matt rides in honor of his mom, Lynn, who is a cancer survivor. While I’m not riding for the cure, I’m using this opportunity to write for one. Matt truly appreciates everyone’s support and is particularly grateful to his wife for her endless contributions in his efforts for this ride, in addition to his hand cycling friend, Geoff, who tackles training rides with him. Please consider making a donation to Matt’s personal profile for the PMC this weekend. You can find the link at http://profile.pmc.org/MN0107.
And even though I was a little girl still in many ways when we got the phone call that Michelle had passed away, the moment is frozen in history as the first time I had seen my dad cry. I grew up and Michelle did not; but as I passed through certain milestones in adolescence like getting my license and going to the prom and heading to college, I brought her with me wondering what she would be like had she been given the chance to grow up too. And so when I wrote my realistic fiction novel, I named my first character Michelle and made her powerful and dynamic just like the Michelle from my childhood, who often wore punked out purple wigs during her chemo treatments when all of her hair would fall out. I also created another character who would battle the same horrific disease Michelle had battled from age 6 when first diagnosed until the day she passed away.
Cancer. Everyone has a story about lost ones, and survivors, and everything in between. My best friend, Jessie, spent yesterday with her family sprinkling some of her dad’s ashes in his favorite places and burying the rest almost a year after his death from colon cancer. The end of August will be three years since our friend Maxey passed away, leaving three teenagers to grow up without their mother. Dr. Bob, a mentor and friend to my husband and one of the original founders of New England Disabled Sports, died four years ago to cancer. The list truly does go on forever, and I’m leaving out so many loved ones, but there is hope for those battling the disease today, and for those waiting to be diagnosed by doctors this afternoon or tomorrow or next week. There is hope because there are people like Matt and Rina and Mike and Dan and Bruce and Karen and Hannah and Todd and thousands of others, who spend innumerable hours training and fundraising for this 192 mile long trek from Sturbridge to Provincetown. There are other great walks and runs and rides like Pelotonia in Ohio our friend Jon is riding in this weekend to raise research funds for the Ohio State University. Together, these events and rides build community, bridge fundraising efforts, and, mostly, to conquer cancer.
Thank you, cyclists, for doing what you do. May the wind be at your back tomorrow and Sunday. Ride strong. My cousin Michelle may not have been given the chance to grow up, but thousands of others will because of the important work happening today and tomorrow and the days ahead.
Again, Matt’s link is http://profile.pmc.org/MN0107.