FIGHTER | BETHEGOOD

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Cancer.

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.

MBDcouple

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.

MBDwedding

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.

MBDsilly

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!

❤ Michelle

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!

MBD

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!

MBD1

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.

fighter

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.

You can follow Michelle’s Face­book author page as she doc­u­ments her journey. In addi­tion, you can order FIGHTER t-​​shirts and follow Michelle on her web­page On March 14.

Overall, follow Michelle’s lead.…get out there and #bethe­good.

 

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