My name is Jo Landolfo and my daughter, Michelle, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. We heard the diagnosis in February 2012. It is now February 2014 and losing Michelle was devastating to our whole family, in fact, to our whole community. She passed away at home surrounded by her loving family on January 1, 2014.
As a mother, hearing, “Your daughter has stage IV colon cancer,” is deafening. You don’t want to hear it; you don’t want to believe it. You think it must be a mistake. She was only 34 years old! We expect serious illness as we grow old, which is part of life, but not for a young, healthy woman. Why is this happening? What can I do? The questions running through my head were brutal and non-stop.
The world turned upside down and everything and everyone was in disbelief and turmoil. Family, friends and co-workers all came together to do whatever they could to help during this crisis. Despite all of the help, an enormous feeling of helplessness consumed me. It was an emotional roller coaster that I thought would never end. The key, I discovered, is reaching out and asking for help.
During the initial stages of treatment, after hearing the diagnosis, I couldn’t wrap my brain around this thing called cancer. It took every bit of strength I had to make it through the day. Life doesn’t stop for anything, let alone for cancer, although; I thought life should stop and let us catch our breath. However, that’s not the reality. Houses had to be cleaned, groceries bought, children cared for and so on. Surgeries, recovery, consultations, and treatments all had to be discussed and decisions made in a very short time. It took the whole family working together to gather information so Michelle could make decisions and help her family hold it together.
I learned that it takes an army to battle cancer. I still find it amazing just how many people were required to keep Michelle’s home running smoothly. Never underestimate the power of family, friends and community. Our family was fortunate that we had a group of people with many talents and skills. We all found our own niche when it came to care giving and helping Michelle. She commented many times on how fortunate she was. Along with her three sisters, Michelle had two Moms, two Grandmothers, a Grandfather, an incredibly supportive Dad and many other relatives and friends to care for her through this process.
Like I said, everyone has their strengths, and thankfully Michelle’s stepmom, Connie, kept all medical records organized and appointments planned. My strength was in care giving, healing, comforting, emotional support, and being there for her when she needed me. Sometimes you just want your mommy to hold and care for you. We all worked together to make it through the day. Most importantly, Michelle’s husband, Mark, was by her side supporting her in every way. Mark did whatever he had to do to keep the household and family together, whether it was keeping the children’s’ lives normal or going grocery shopping. And Mark continues to do all of this today while dealing with his own loss and emotional grief. Family and friends continue to help keep life manageable for them, although I am sure it doesn’t feel that way sometimes.
Michelle’s Sister, Jennifer, went with her to chemotherapy many times and was considered her “chemo buddy,” so much so that Jen began experiencing symptoms out of pure empathy. Jennifer motivated her to keep going and was a constant source of spiritual strength. In October of 2013, before her bypass surgery, Michelle wrote in the journal located in the hospital chapel. Her entry in the journal was a loving testament to Jennifer’s spiritual support.
“Dear Jesus, I want to thank you for all my blessings you have bestowed on me and my family. I am thankful for all that I have. Thank you for answering my prayers in healing me and others. I will continue to listen to your word and see your signs of faith. I trust in you and your will and your plan for me.”
Sandra, Michelle’s other sister did so much to support her sister since day one, and continues to help those battling cancer. Michelle began an organization called YesWeCanSir.org, which supports those battling cancer. Sandra now runs the website. Living in Colorado did not stop her from making things happen here on the East coast! She frequently flew home to visit and support Michelle in any way that she could.
Michelle’s last sister Jessica lives in NYC. Jess also did so much to support Michelle emotionally, but also took it upon herself to do the scientific research for Michelle. She has a Ph.D. in the sciences, so she was the best person for this role and we are grateful for all of her help. Her research allowed us to understand what was happening and the information helped Michelle to make well-informed decisions. Consults with Jess saved Michelle from undergoing unnecessary tests and making more informed decisions.
There are so many unmentioned people who have done so much. I cannot thank them enough.
Now, with hindsight, I know without a doubt that we all knew we would stand together and do what we needed to be done to support Michelle. Through the pain, the emotional and the physical turmoil, Michelle consistently and passionately created hope and promoted positive thinking for us all. She always cared about everyone that was unaffected by cancer. Michelle did everything in her power to keep her family as normal as possible. Her courage has inspirited us all, to say the least. I am so proud of my daughter Michelle. In our grief we remember and honor her spirit, her vision and her mission that lives on by helping others dealing and coping with cancer as well as their families.