Over the past few weeks I have been covering the Barlows/Callahans, a family out of Newburyport, Massachusetts, that participates each year in the Pan Mass Challenge. Many of the family members ride in the two day race to raise money for cancer research; those family members who don’t ride help raise money for the team. The team is named Make Way For Molly, in honor of one of the youngest family members who suffered – and fully recovered from – a form of leukemia as a child.
One of the biggest fundraisers for the team – an evening dance, auction and dinner event is coming up on May 5, and it seems like everyone in Newburyport is pitching in to help out. Newburyport is an amazing community – at times it feels like one big family, especially around events like this. People from all walks of life have lined up to lend a hand and give something to help this team raise money – from donations for the silent auction to food prep for the dinner to sponsorships for the riders on the Make Way for Molly Team.
I love what the Make Way For Molly team is doing, and I love the way the community is pitching in to help, and I love writing about and covering this team for the BrandFiller blog. But it’s not easy for me. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I distance myself from this topic when I write about it. I spent the past few days reflecting on this, and I’ve decided to share with you why I distance myself. At the risk of getting too personal for this blog I feel it will underscore how important the work is that Make Way For Molly and other teams like it are doing.
When I hear the word “cancer” I think of one thing – every time, without exception. I think of my Dad. I hear the word and it doesn’t matter where I am or what the context is, I picture my father. You see, my dad passed away a few years ago after a bout with esophageal cancer. It is a nasty form of cancer; it goes through your body like a tank and usually kills you pretty quickly. In my dad’s case it took about six months. The transformation was devastating as he went through a round of chemotherapy and then another round of chemotherapy. Not to give you too much more than you want to stomach, but we found out on the day before Christmas that his first round of treatment had failed. After that there was a second round, which also failed and eventually he ended up in the hospital after the cancer had surprised everyone and almost instantly spread to the rest of his body. I remember him turning to me after the doctors had told him there was nothing left that they could do – he asked me what that meant, looking up at me and hoping that he might have missed something.
It was gut wrenching as I watched my best friend, my father, a man who had literally or figuratively carried me through my entire life, waste away and try to do it with dignity. I remember vividly standing in a room at Mass General Hospital with four doctors and a hospice worker as they explained to me that it was over for my father and there was nothing left to do. I remember the feeling of profound sadness, emptiness, hopelessness and loss that swirled around me at that moment and never seemed to leave me. I remember the days, then weeks, then months and even years of missing him that followed. Eventually, I emerged from that. I’m not sure how. Even now, looking back on the year that followed his death, I can’t remember feeling much. I remember sitting for hours and just thinking about him.
So to put this in context, the Make Way For Molly team is working to raise money so that this doesn’t have to happen to people. I watch this family and the community around them, and I feel so deeply grateful for what they’re doing that I can’t really express it. I try to – I write about how they’re making progress, I participate in the fundraiser and I sponsor the riders. But in my head and in my heart, most of the time I have to keep it all at a distance. It’s like a giant hole in my heart that I can’t get too close too for fear that I’ll fall back into it.
I’ll wrap this post up now – there will be more coverage of the Pan Mass Challenge and Make Way For Molly. I have some great stories from the team that I’ll post about in a few days, and of course, I’ll be covering the silent auction on May 5. But if you’re reading this I urge you to participate in some way – ride, give, donate your time – because some day, what these people achieve in their drive to end cancer will make a difference, maybe even to you, personally.