It happened so fast.
On a warm Sunday night in Florida January 2014 we threw a huge dinner party for our team. Michele gave her team gifts, hugs and big speech about how bright the future was. She looked very pale, but she felt fine and we partied until after midnight.
I was at work the next morning when she called me from home. She said her leg was in pain. She was having trouble putting weight on it. At first, I thought maybe she’d just had too much to drink and slept on it wrong. I told her to take some aspirin and call me back.
She called me again an hour later. This time she was crying. She was bruised all over, had red spots appearing on her legs and she couldn’t walk at all now. She said it was the worst pain she’s ever felt. I left the office and drove her to the emergency room.
Something was very wrong.
Two days later she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Blood cancer. The fastest killing cancer the world has ever known. They projected the cancer had started about a month ago and she perhaps only had days to live when they caught it.
They told us she had a 30% chance to survive a year, but it was treatable, there was hope.
It would be a marathon, not a sprint. She was 30 years old and we had been trying to have our first child. Overnight, our picture-perfect lives were changed forever.
Then began a whirlwind of frenetic activity that drained our bank accounts, our savings and our income dramatically. Hundreds of blood transfusions, 6 rounds of chemo, months of stays in the hospital, miraculous drugs that cost tens of thousands of dollars, emergency egg preservation before the chemo permanently damaged her reproductive system and ultimately, a bone marrow transplant.
We were both small business owners. She was out of work and I was desperately trying to run her business and mine. Everything was falling apart.
And that’s when the miracles started happening.
Friends and acquaintances that she hadn’t seen in 15 years threw her a fundraiser in her hometown in Virginia. Over a hundred people attended.
A friend of the family started a charity fund online. Hundreds of friends, family and kind strangers donated.
Employees at the office worked harder and longer to keep our clients happy and to make up for me being at the hospital with Michele around the clock.
Local businesses got involved and threw a charity event to raise money for us and to help bring awareness to an amazing bone marrow transplant matching organization that we needed to save Michele’s life. The Mayor of Orlando delivered a proclamation to the city for Michele on the day of the event. Hundreds attended, more help flooded in.
Until this year, neither of us had ever asked anyone for charity. We didn’t borrow money. We had a small giving fund we had set aside to help others, but it wasn’t much. We weren’t involved in the community and we essentially lived in a bubble.
Yet multiple communities stepped up and lifted us up in our darkest hours. Thousands of people prayed for us, stayed for us and gave for us.
It was an amazing thing to see. If I had become cynical of humanity from watching too much news or reading too much social media, here was the antidote.
There simply aren’t any words to express gratitude of this magnitude. I choke up every time I think about it. And there’s really only one response that makes sense. Pay it forward.
Michele is still here 8 months later. She’s had a transplant and doctors are telling us she has an 80% chance of full recovery. She’s a modern day medical miracle.
Cancer knocked us down. Our community woke us up and picked us up. And now we have an obligation, a lifelong-debt, that we will work diligently to pay back for the rest of our lives.
In our business, we are implementing a volunteer system where every member of the team can take a day off every month and get paid to volunteer. We are now actively looking to focus on helping grow businesses with a focus on social impact. We are going to be setting aside funds to give back where we can everywhere the community has need. It may not be much yet, but we have decades to make more of a difference every year. Are you in?
In reality, it’s not an obligation. It’s an opportunity for change, let’s not waste it.