Commmunity Champion Spotlight
Where Are They Now?
Michele doesn’t recall much about her illness. “It was so long ago,” she says. But her mom, Doreen, certainly does. She remembers 7-year-old Michele complaining of pains in her legs and back, and “all they could find was that she was anemic.” When the pains continued and Michele became weaker, they did more tests and “they still said it was anemia.”
Finally, the family doctor diagnosed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and admitted Michele to the hospital. She began two years of chemotherapy, and her parents were thrown into the turmoil of caring for a very sick child. During this time, they met Sheila Petersen, Friends of Karen’s founder. “Anything I needed, I could talk to Sheila,” Doreen says. “She understood. She was amazing.”
Doreen recalls a very telling story about Sheila. Michele would not eat, and they decided to try bribery: she had her heart set on a “bald boy Cabbage Patch doll” and agreed to eat if they got it for her. It was the mid-1980s and Cabbage Patch dolls were a hot item. “Sheila searched high and low and finally found one. She brought it to the hospital,” Doreen says, “and Michele started to eat.”
“Yes, I remember that doll,” Michele says with a smile. “I also remember a coloring book in the hospital about a little girl who loses her hair and is trying on wigs, and I got really mad at the idea that I was going to lose my hair and threw that book across the room!”
Michele has been in remission since late 1986. Today, she is happily married with three children of her own, and is the administrative assistant to a school district superintendent. And for 15 years, Doreen has run a “gift tree” at Washingtonville High School in support of our Holiday Gifts for Children program, arriving at our office every December with armloads of wonderful toys and games.
“Friends of Karen helped me and that meant so much,” Doreen says. “Friends of Karen was there for me. Always.”