Dear Melissa

April 6, 2012

We don’t know each other, we’ve never met. In fact had you lived chances are we wouldn’t know each other, except for the fact that we would live about 2 miles from one another. Which means, since you died at home, you died 2 miles away from me.

When you died I was pregnant with my son. Just down the road.

I wonder if we passed one another in Wegmans. Or maybe in the hospital.

While we never met I feel that in some ways I can relate to you. Your story inspires me as much as it brings me to my knees. In the face of Cancer you fought and you fought hard. In the end you had the courage to stop all of your treatment. In the end, in the final days before you left this earth you thought of others when you asked your Mom… to please make it better for others.

I feel very honored to know your mother Lauren. As I am inspired by you, I am inspired by her. I don’t know that I could do what she has done. In the face of grief and the unimaginable experience of losing her only daughter….. she has kept that promise. I dont’ know if I could be so strong. Clearly you are your mother’s daughter. Or maybe she’s her daughter’s mother. Maybe you brought out of her something she didn’t even know she had.

Twelve years after you left this earth, your name is said every day. Your picture on the wall in her office is looked at. Your memory floats around the Teens Living With Cancer Center like a beautiful energy that lights people up.

Twelve years later there is a beautiful group of Teens who I feel so fortunate to know who have formed a family with each other.

I mean, look at this video…… these are the Teens who were brought together in your name.

I am sure by now you have heard about the Duel in the Pool race with Lance Armstrong I have gotten myself into. It’s just a few weeks away and it’s become a pretty big deal around here. There are some things that have happened that I didn’t expect. Some people have chosen to make it about themselves. Some people have gotten angry with me because I can’t get them in to meet Lance. Some people have told me we will never hit our goal of $100,000, as we currently sit at $20,000. One woman even wanted to know…. why are you racing Lance, I am faster than you?

It would be really easy for me to get caught up. When you bring a name like Lance into the picture intentions get skewed.

When this all first happened I got a little worried. I worried I’d get caught up in what I shouldn’t. So I wrote your name on the back of a business card and I taped it to my desk. Each time I get an email about the Duel in the Pool, positive or negative, before I reply I look at your name.

You faced bigger odds than we do. You faced a bigger fight than we are. You faced odds more impossible than we ever will. So I won’t allow your story to get lost. I will not allow this to become about anything other than fulfilling a promise that your mom made to you a few days before you died. I will not.

When I feel like what we have taken on is too big, too impossible, I look at your name. It reminds me that even in the face of unbearable odds you put one foot in front of the other. You kept it in perspective, you fought like hell but you still….. thought of others. You donated your body for medical research. You asked your mom to make it better.

I will not allow this to become what it is not about….. because of your story and your life and your message.

This isn’t even about me. In fact I am the least important person in this whole thing.

I read your story at least once a week for the same reason that I look at your name every single day. You are what this is all about.

In this picture you were smiling and having fun with your friends. I wonder where those friends are now, and where you would be had you won your battle. I am angry that you did not win your battle (although in the end, your victory was not really about beating cancer, was it?). I am angry that your mother walks around every day with a hole in her heart that nothing can heal. I am angry that so many parents have to watch their children endure chemotherapy treatments, biopsies, and blood transfusions. I am angry that without life experience teens like you are thrown into a world they don’t want to be a part of and no one really understands.

Anger doesn’t help though, as you taught me.

Resolve helps. Tenacity helps. Perseverance helps. Fighting back helps.

Thank you Melissa for everything you were about. Your spirit is touching all of us 12 years later. Your energy carries us, your will inspires us. No matter what we have to fight today in terms of people who are doubters, people who just don’t get it, our fight is the easy one.

I know in my heart that while your mother is very proud of the work Teens Living With Cancer has done over the past several years, that she’d trade everything to have her sweet girl back. I know she would. Sometimes I wish that was a choice she could be given.

She told me last week that when you died you were not afraid, that you died with your family, that you were not in pain. That you got to do everything on your terms. I can’t think of anything more inspiring and beautiful than that.

I hope that someday, somewhere (preferably a place like…. oh I don’t know…. Heaven), that I will be able to meet you. If I had one minute with you sister, I would wrap my arms around you, give you the biggest hug possible and thank you. Thank you for being the driving force behind all of this. Thank you for being the wind beneath the wings of so many. Thank you for teaching us what true selflessness is about, and thank you for asking your mom to make that promise.






  1. My dear one… your letter brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing your heart with me an with so many others.

    As a two time young adult cancer survivor, I recognize my blessings every day. I know, with every breath, that I am fortunate to be here. That is why I do the work that I do. My passion to educate people about the special needs of young adults living and dying with a cancer diagnosis is irrepressible. Teaching people how to be their own advocate with health care providers and beyond in their community and with their legislators is much needed. Actively engaging with our world to let them know that young adults do get cancer, that we have the worst outcomes, that our mortality rates HAVE NOT CHANGED with pediatric and elder-cancers, and to shout from the roof-tops that this is not okay.

    I, too, am blessed to know Lauren. To know her spirit, her work, and her continuing love as a mother. Melissa’s Living Legacy provides life-altering support for teens living with a cancer diagnosis, their families and needs continued community support.

    In 2009, I broke my neck and was told I would never walk normally, never race outriggers, never run with my kids again. My motto since that moment has been Never Give Up. I had charms made that I give away to those I meet in the cancer community. Sometimes the smallest reminder that we carry with us can get us through to the next breath. I don’t live to someone else’s view of my reality. I know you don’t either. In that way, and others, your challenge and your spirit resonates with me deeply.
    We can raise $100,000. We can do it together. We must.
    I believe.

    For Melissa, and so many others, I continue to believe we can do this.
    SwimSTRONG, love.

  2. Reblogged this on takeawareness2action.

  3. What a gift in Melissa. And what a wonderful compass her card w/ name on your desk serves. The rest of the cynics and those who judge….ick, I have no energy for them.

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