It’s a word that can make your heart drop to your feet.
You have cancer. It is in your brain. It is inoperable. You have one year.
This is not about the devastation that cancer brings, but rather the inspiration that one incredible young woman found once she was told these very words.
Today, the Clayton Gray Home blog will have more of a personal tone. I hope that you don’t mind and that you will join me as I share the incredible journey of one of my friends, Michelle Boyd DeJong.
Michelle and I became friends only about one month ago. Until then, I was an acquaintance of her husband, Ryan. Actually, more Facebook friends through the run group, Run Tampa, where we were all three members. Always friendly as he would lap me on our group run, we would exchange “good mornings” and I’d get a “great job” on Ryan’s return. Like any good Facebook stalker, I would check out Ryan’s page occasionally when his posts would pop up in my newsfeed. My husband and I loved reading their food blog and trying out some of the restaurants they had discussed. Watching Ryan and Michelle’s banter on FB was very entertaining and I grew to admire the relationship they shared. Through the cyber world, I witnessed hysterical date nights, lots of food posts, and countless celebrations with friends. I witnessed their relationship grow from dating, to engaged to married couple. Ryan and Michelle have the relationship that we should all be so lucky to have, they are true soul mates. I fell in love with this couple by watching their love for each other evolve. And I hardly knew them. They were the “it” couple in my book. Everything they touched turned to gold. The world was their oyster.
Until, on March 14, then everything changed.
Ryan posted a vacation picture of Michelle on Facebook. Mid air. Perfect belly flop position. That’s right, this little firecracker was competing in the International Men’s Belly Flop contest aboard a cruise ship bound for Mexico. Guess what? She placed third! Glass ceilings, limits and boundaries are not a part of Michelle’s vocabulary. She harnesses her dream. Michelle left a steady job to start her own marketing and advertising firm. A scary leap for a recent graduate, but Michelle never saw fear…only possibilities. Michelle was named one of the Tampa Business Journals 2012 Up & Comers for her successful business venture. Michelle saw needs in the community, she took action. She volunteered and joined High Hopes in High Heels. A charity where Michelle sits on the Board of Directors. The mission of High Hopes in High Heels is to empower Tampa Bay’s women to improve their lives personally, professionally and philanthropically through supporting our community. Michelle may be many, many years younger than me but I really want to be like her when I grow up!
Michelle. Setting goals. Living dreams. #Bethegood.
On the very trip where Michelle earned her belly flop medal, she also started to feel the effects of an unwelcome visitor. This open letter that she posted on the High Hopes in High Heels webpage tells the story best and gives you a glimpse into the incredible person that is Michelle Boyd DeJong.
Hello High Hopes Family!
This isn’t an easy email to send but it’s one you all deserve to have before you hear this through the grapevine. I’m going to save you the frustration of having to read through a long email and cut to the chase — then explain. I have cancer. It’s a brain tumor and it isn’t pretty.
My husband Ryan and I went to Mexico a few weeks ago and went diving. I’ve had headaches my entire life and have managed them with ibuprofen and a nap, but I couldn’t shake one following the dive. I thought I blew my sinuses out!
On March 14th I went to the doctor’s office because I felt the headache“moving” in my head overnight. It sounded like a balloon was letting out air as it moved from the back of my head to my forehead. Freaky, I know! When my pupils didn’t react to my doc’s flashlight she immediately ordered an emergency cat scan. In a matter of just a few hours, my world collapsed. The cat scan and various tests revealed a 3x4cm brain tumor sitting right at the brain stem.
I had emergency brain surgery on 17th to reduce the swelling of the brain and managed to “break out” of the hospital by the 19th. Train track staples and all. While they were “in there” they were able to successfully get a biopsy, and then came the news we really didn’t want: it is a grade 3 astrocytoma. Cancer. Of your brain.
On the 27th I had my second brain surgery to implant a permanent shunt. It takes excess fluid from my brain and drains it down into my stomach. It’s all internal and you can’t see it — modern medicine! I broke out of brain surgery, again within 48 hours, and I’m sending this email from the comforts of my own home. 🙂 I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like superwoman.
Once I heal from this surgery I begin 8 weeks of chemo and radiation. Surgical removal is not an option because of the tumor’s location. Apparently you have important things going on near your brain stem! The goal is remission so that I can live with the shunt operating on my behalf. It just needs to stop growing. Piece of cake, right?
As it turns out, a cancer diagnosis gives you a lot of time to think. I can’t sleep at night because of the steroids so I’ve been working on a book. The book will get published at the end of this road. Now, the ultimate goal is for ME to publish it. However, you can’t always choose the way things go (clearly). So, if I cannot publish it, my family will and it will take great care of them in the future (because it’s going to be a bestseller and make a LOT of money.) 😉
In the upcoming weeks I’ll be launching a “Michelle Boyd Dejong, Author” Facebook page to begin a following before there’s ever a book. But there has to be a reason for all of this, right? The ultimate goal is not actually to publish a book. It’s fun, but it’s meaningless. It’s just a book and if (when) it makes a lot of money – well money is just money.
I’ve thought a lot about what I can do that’s meaningful on a large scale and have decided that while we’re all “waiting” for the book to be published, the Facebook page will serve as a source of insight and realizations throughout this crappy journey. The REAL goal is to help people lead better lives and take better care of one another. If a single person stops taking something for granted or starts treating someone better, it’s all going to be worth it.
So, I’ve been working on this and now we’re at the point where you probably say “what can I do?” like everyone else has throughout this entire process. You can be patient and you can continue being the amazing women that you all are. Seeing all that High Hopes in High Heels does for our community truly makes me happy. If you’re passionate about something, volunteer more. Let your Board of Directors know how you’d like to make a difference in Tampa Bay and if we aren’t doing a good job at providing great opportunities, we are going to work harder for you. We don’t know what we don’t know so please speak up and we will find ways to better accommodate everyone’s ideas. We really believe in what we do but we are only a few gals. We need your help. 🙂
That’s all for now and I’ll try my best to provide updates as I have them. Before signing off I wanted to share a little something I’ve believed in the past few years. It’s a great way of going about life regardless of what beliefs you have. It’s “believe there is good in the world” but what I find fascinating is it’s hidden message of “be the good.” So go ahead, do it! Be the good!
Grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma or AA3.
Ryan posted the news on our run group page approximately two weeks later and my world stopped. Time was frozen as I stared at the computer screen. This is impossible! Always healthy, Michelle had just completed her first marathon in February. Post race, Michelle shared a photo where she and Ryan announced that they were beginning the adoption process and they were choosing to adopt an older child because they felt older children were lost in the shuffle. See?! They are amazing!
What?! How?! Why?! How could this be happening to someone so good? So fun? So entertaining? So full of life? It just doesn’t seem fair.
I cried. I didn’t even know Michelle, yet this news was a serious punch in the gut. As if it were my own sister who had received the diagnosis. Then came the inspiration. This came from Michelle and just like I had “known” her to be, she rose to the occasion. Michelle posted “You can absolutely feel sad or sorry for me, but please know that it’s not what I want. There’s going to be a giant positive that comes from all of this. I promise.”
Michelle is not going to let this cancer, this diagnosis take her life from her. She is going to live her life WITH this cancer and fight it with everything she has. Once again, Michelle has a vision of how this would all play out. She is going to do good. She is going to #bethegood. She is going to inspire others to #bethegood. Donning her super hero cape, she has become the #FIGHTER.
The doctors told Michelle that she will be lucky; the treatment will not cause her to lose all of her hair, only in patches. Since she is already left with a lovely hair cut from two brain surgeries, Michelle did what she does best and embraced the obstacle and shaved her head BEFORE the cancer could decide her new hairstyle. Let me tell you something, she rocks a buzz cut like no other! Demi Moore could take a lesson or two. She has let her natural beauty shine through. No scarves. No hats. She proudly shows off her beautiful melon for the whole world to see. Shortly after the surgeries, Michelle snuck off to put HER stamp on cancer. It came in the shape of a forearm tattoo and the word FIGHTER. This is now her trademark. She has drawn the line in the sand and dares this cancer to cross it. What this cancer doesn’t know is that you don’t mess with runners and you don’t mess with awesome people like Michelle, who has her own army supporting her and willing to go to battle for her!
Ryan and Michelle have decided to give back to the institution that was waging war on this brain tumor. Every year, Moffitt Cancer Center hosts a race, Miles for Moffitt. It is May 10th, 2014. The half way mark of Michelle’s treatment. And with that, Team “Too Inspired by What’s Transpired” has been born. Friends. Family. Strangers. All come together to rally around Michelle, to offer support and strength. In two weeks time, the team had raised money and secured sponsors for team t-shirts and created not only the biggest team, but also a team that is on track to break fundraising records for Moffitt. The team came out of nowhere, took over and grabbed the attention of the Moffitt PR team. Who were these people?! Moffitt contacted Ryan, and then local media, they wanted to learn more. Ryan shared Michelle’s story and how people that Michelle had helped, were now helping her. How people that she didn’t even know, were rallying around her from all over the country. Four weeks later the “team” has now grown into a movement. Raising almost $32K dollars and over 228 runners strong. Too Inspired by What’s Transpired is ready to take over the University of South Florida’s campus for this race! 100% of funds collected from this race, donations and registration, go back to fund cancer research.
Tuesday night (April 29, 2014) - WFLA News Channel 8 and Adrienne Pederson aired a story about Michelle and her incredibly inspiring attitude. On Wednesday (April 30, 2014) at 5pm you can chat with her and Gayle Sirens live on the 5pm broadcast. Show your support for Michelle by using the #CANCERFIGHTER on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
What can I do to help, you may ask? You can support Michelle in many ways.
There is still time for you to join the Miles For Moffitt team, either here in Tampa or via virtual race. The virtual race option allows you to run/walk wherever you are and still support and be a part of our team. Three different distances (8k, 5k and 1mile) so there is something for everyone. Run or walk. Michelle is signed up to walk the 5k. Yes. You read that correctly. Mid treatment and this fighter will be on the race course. Clayton Gray Home is happy to also be a member of this team. Gaspar’s Grotto in Ybor will host the post-race party from 11-until we decide to leave! Runners, non-runners..all are welcome!
In another amazing and I believe first time ever occurrence, other Miles for Moffitt teams have joined in to support Michelle. There is a team of over 150 runners with Get A Grip Fitness who will have Michelle’s FIGHTER logo on their shirts AND there are fundraising teams that will not even wear their own team shirts but rather will wear the FIGHTER shirts for Michelle’s team. An incredible way to show solidarity and support for someone who they don’t even know. So join or donate to Team Too Inspired by What’s Transpired today and #bethegood.
Last week a local Jimmy Johns franchise held a give back night and donated 20% of their sales to the Miles for Moffitt team. This week Barre Fitness owner Denise Tini is offering donation based classes to clients on Friday, May 2nd. Donate a minimum of $20 and you will receive a class credit. In addition on Saturday, May 3rd at 6:30am, she will host Barre 4 Brains on Bayshore, a 3mi run with stops for barre exercises. Funds raised will go to Michelle’s team fund.
We are pleased to announce that Team Too Inspired by What’s Transpired will also be featured during the Give Day Tampa Bay charity drive on May 6th, 2014. Click on their Facebook page to learn more about this history making event. By simply tweeting, sharing, liking and using social media as best as you can, you could help Michelle’s team win extra charity funds and help her regain the top fundraiser title for the Miles For Moffitt race.
Clayton Gray Home proudly welcomes Ryan and Michelle as our guests for First Friday, May 2nd, 2014 from 5-8pm. You can meet this amazing couple, sign up for the Miles for Moffitt race and/or support the team. Give Day Tampa Bay will also be on hand to explain how Give Day works and how you can use the day to drum up more support for Michelle and her team.
Overall, follow Michelle’s lead.…get out there and #bethegood.