The Good Women of Boca Raton

This past Monday I was in Boca Raton, Florida, speaking at a fundraiser for the Lymphoma Research Foundation. This, the second annual LRF fundraiser in Boca, raised over 100K, bringing their two year total to over 200K. Yay, good ladies of Boca Raton, thank you for your efforts on behalf of this important cause.  

3/17/08

Thank you very much for that introduction Sue. And, Sue, I thank you and the entire staff of the LRF for taking such good care of me last year while I was in chemo. There are many wonderful causes out there, and this one is obviously personal for me, but I want all of you know that the money raised here today goes towards an important organization overseen by a group of people with giant hearts.

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It is an honor to be here with you today. I want to thank all of you for your efforts on behalf of the LRF, especially Judy Bronstein and the Committee that helped put together this wonderful event. Together you have raised more than 200k in the last two years. I can only hope that you continue your efforts on behalf of lymphoma survivors like myself far into the future.

For those of you who were not here last year, and do not know my story, in August of 2006 I began a grueling eight month regimen of chemotherapy to rid my body of a slowly growing but very dangerous form of lymphoma. There are more than thirty types of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and despite being a triathlete, a healthy eater, and even someone who regularly meditates and does yoga, I was struck with a form of it—mantle cell lymphoma—that normally hits men in their late 60s and can be very difficult to treat. So there I was, my wife Jacqueline pregnant with our first child, and me, checked into the University of Pennsylvania Hospital every three weeks for three nights for over eight months. And as if that weren’t enough, in the middle of all of this craziness two very separate events defined our lymphoma year: Sophia was born on November 30th and the very next morning I found out that the chemo that had made me sick, rendered me unable to take the best care of my lovely wife during her pregnancy, had worked and had quickly put me into remission; BUT, at that same time, during that same week of miracles, my wonderful father, who many of you knew well, who himself had battled cancer for almost nine years, had a recurrence. He declined quickly, and would pass in late February while I was tethered to an IV, unable to be with him at his end. My only solace in that is that in the months before he died he was able to spend some nice time with Sophia, singing to her, tickling her, and giving her kisses, and knowing that despite the cruel timing of his illness, he got to be a grandfather.

Looking back on that time in my life, it almost seems unreal. I have my health and my hair back, I have a beautiful daughter who’s smile lights up our house, I will receive my Ph.D. from Columbia Unniversity in May, I am back at work, I swim almost a mile every day, and just two weeks ago I saw my doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, Steve Schuster, who smiled as he saw the results of my latest tests, confirming that indeed his work had been a great, albeit, punishing success.

Just a year ago, almost to the day, he had admitted me to the hospital. I was struggling with a nearly 104 fever, a dangerous side-effect of the chemo. I could see in his eyes that he was worried that he was killing me by administering the toxic brew of chemicals that were meant to save my life. But after one long very sweaty night, that fever passed, and after two more harsh rounds of treatment I was on my way to recovery, and our mission was accomplished. I stand before you here today as both a sign of the progress in treating lymphoma—I can expect a very long remission and hold out hope for a cure because of the research that you all help to fund—and as a symbol of how much more work needs to be done in lymphoma research and prevention—because despite my belief that I am cured, it is statistically likely that some day my lymphoma will return. I remain confident that events like today’s that raise both money and awareness, and build connections between people like us, will keep me healthy and insure that I get to dance with my beautiful Sophia at her wedding some twenty to thirty years hence.

I think it would be appropriate, given that this is a women’s lunch, and that the women here today have worked so hard to raise money for this important cause, that I share with you some thoughts about the women in my life and the role that they played while I was sick.

My mother-in-law Debra Sacks is here with us today. The great thing about Debbie is that she is always ready, willing, and able. Not in a “nebbishy, in your face” kind of way, and not in an overwhelming “I gotta get out of the house my mother-in-law is here” kind of way, but rather, when I was sick in just a “what can I do to be as helpful as possible to Michael and Jacqui, especially in their time of need” kind of way. Thank you Debbie.

My sister Andrea, who is not here with us today, has been an endless source of love. Andrea is my little sister, which means that since she was born she suffered through brutal teasing, the occasional pulling of hair, and certainly the “I am too cool for you and your little friends” years of high school. But through it all she always showed unswerving love and dedication to her big brother, and has most importantly, forgiven me for torturing her.

My mother, who many of you now know as the flower and home accessories maven of Boca Raton, is here today and I want to thank all of you for taking care of her while my dad and I were sick last year. The idea of a mother seeing her son go through hell, even to save his life, must have really sucked. My mom’s confidence in my treatment outcome, her love and support to Jacqui and I, and her seemingly effortless ability to clean an entire home in what seemed like minutes, was invaluable to us. Thank you mom. You remind me every day of the importance of love and family.

My wife Jacqueline is also here with us today. Jacqueline, not a day has gone by in our now almost seven years together when I didn’t feel like a better man because of you; I feel your love in both moments of laughter and silence, joy and pain; Jacqui, despite originally being diagnosed with lymphoma just months after our wedding you have stood by me through the difficulties of coping with a potentially deadly illness, and even when the stress of life could have divided us, it brought us closer and closer together (I should say that through months 6 through 8 of her pregnancy Jacqui slept on a cot next to me in the hospital, never leaving my side); finally, everyday I gain great pleasure parenting our daughter with you and watching you mother Sophia with tenderness and love.

I want to also thank my daughter Sophia and tell her what it has meant to me to become a father in the midst of what I can only describe as a crazy time. Every day I was in chemo I was strengthened and inspired, first at the idea of being a father and then by having you. Everyday when I pick you up from the crib in the morning and see your sometimes crying and sometimes smiling face, I think of the future, and know, that despite whatever obstacles lie ahead, our future is bright and long together.

Finally, to you all, the new women in my life, I say thank you. Your generosity of spirit and your generous donations to the LRF are deeply touching to me and my family. Without all of you, and people like you in communities across the country, the LRF would not be able to fulfill its mission. So from this lymphoma survivor, and on behalf of my family, I want to say thank you. The work that all of you have done here today and the work I know you will continue to do on behalf of the LRF in the future will help insure that our family will stay healthy and together, and that I will be alive to be the father, husband, son, brother, and friend to you all that I know you want me to be.

Thank you.

2 thoughts on “The Good Women of Boca Raton”

  1. Dear Michael,I just read the marvelous speech you gave in Boca.It is a joy to be your friend and see the love in your family.My prayers and positive vibrations shall always be with you.with my love, always,Steve

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  2. Michael,I just read your entire blog and something told me I needed to leave you a message. While reading I was really taken back because you remind me of my older brother. My brother Nick was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphona in the fall of 05 and fought a RELENTLESS battle for 14 months, which fate decided for him on Nov 28, 2006. He was only 21 yrs old stud who played div. 1 lacrosse @ Hofstra University. Nick was treated @ UPENN among the same doctors you had. Nick was an amazing individual who offer so much in such little time. My family has now started a foundation in memory of him and we are currently exploding across the globe. Our website is http://www.headstrongfoundation.org and our mission is to support and raise funds for blood cancer cure, treatment & research; To raise public awareness about blood cancer and to educate and encourage others to do the same. My mom is the chairman and I’m the president. I admire your efforts in beating this disease and would love to hear back from you! My emial im michaelcolleluori@gmail.comSincerely,Michael Colleluori

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