“Life doesn’t give us purpose. We give life purpose.” – The Flash.
For Kelli, her purpose in life was to stand by her brother Mike’s side, just like any loyal sidekick would do, and to join the fight against children’s cancer.
It all started in 2004 when she came home from college for Thanksgiving break. That’s when her mother said that her 18-year-old brother had osteosarcoma, a childhood cancer. He had been diagnosed while also in college, after receiving an x-ray for an injury.
“I was planning on going abroad the following semester, and the first thing I said after my mom told me was, ‘Well, there’s nothing to consider – I’m not going abroad.’ I knew it was serious by the way my mom told me, and we went to the hospital the next morning.”
Mike was treated in New York City, and would spend the week either in-patient or at the Ronald McDonald House a few blocks away. The family sometimes had to trek in a wheelchair in the dead of winter, snow and ice and all, just to get to treatment.
“Spending that much time restricted to a hospital room is intense. Mike was on the peds floor since it was a pediatric cancer, and the staff were just incredible with their bedside manner and the activities they do to make the time go faster. They deserve so much praise.”
Thankfully, their parents’ employers were flexible with their schedules, so they could take turns staying with Mike in the hospital or Ronald McDonald House when he had chemo, and then work from the hospital.
It was all about Mike while he was in treatment, as it should be. The family coordinated early morning rides to and from the hospital, food plans and how to make him most comfortable when he was home on off-weeks. During his neutropenic times, they had to wear masks around the house so he wouldn’t get any germs.
When Kelli was home from school, she tried to stay with him, to give her parents a break. She and Mike would watch trashy TV together and laugh.
“I truly believe humor got Mike through treatment. He was always making jokes, laughing and giving nurses a hard time. Since he was a volunteer EMS for years and in school to be a paramedic, he kept them on their toes asking about the drugs, dosages, effects, etc. It was hysterical to see the nurses faces when he asked such a specific medical question, it totally caught them off guard.”
It was Mike’s spirit and sense of humor through these tough times that inspired Kelli to want to join the fight against children’s cancer. She started working for CureSearch in 2010 as a regional event manager, and is now the National Director of Business Development.
There’s even a cool fact that ties this story together: one day, Kelli saw the CureSearch logo on Mike’s paperwork after he came home from a check-up appointment, showing that the organization had been there since his diagnosis!
Today, Kelli is happy to report that almost 13 years from the day he was diagnosed, Mike is doing great. He graduated from college with a degree in paramedic management, he’s a member of the Federal Disaster Relief Team (DMAT), and he currently works as a Paramedic Tour Chief in Jersey City, New Jersey.
At just 18 months apart, Mike and Kelli have always been close, and that’s why she’s such a loyal sidekick. Growing up, they had some of the same friends and participated in the same activities, like swimming, where she managed the team while he competed. Mike even stood next to her at her wedding (she and her husband Ben didn’t have a wedding party – just their brothers by their side).
“Mike is my buddy, my partner in crime, and the one person who will tell it to me straight, no matter the situation. He’s the only person I’ll stay up past my bedtime to talk with.”
Now that they live in different states, they don’t get to see each other as much as they’d like to, so any chance they get, they like to spend time together relaxing and giving each other a hard time.
“Sarcasm runs strong between us, and I now love having my little guy spend time with the best…uncle…ever.”
Mike’s on his third leg of surgery and will continue to have them, along with a lifetime of side effects (he’s one of the 60% of children who suffer late-effects). Despite this, he never lets on when he’s in pain, which is often, and he takes his constant appointments and surgeries in stride.
“When you meet Mike, you’d never know he went through something as life-changing as childhood cancer. He’s the friend everyone wishes they had.”
To Kelli, that makes Mike her forever hero.
Help us fight the villain cancer in our countdown to National Superhero Day by donating toward lifesaving research. Help us give superheroes like Mike a chance to live longer, better and healthier lives.
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