Joe and I have very heavy hearts this week.
I guess that’s the nature of our work – that we are often blessed with the good fortune to share stories of triumph and recovery. But the cancer story often has a different ending.
Last week, we said goodbye to Samantha Bourque, a Foundation grant recipient and so much more. She was 21 years old and just finishing her junior year at Bryant University, where she recently completed a class project that benefited our organization.
Samantha was bright, creative, smart, generous and brave. She taught many of us important lessons, as she valiantly fought clear cell sarcoma. Her dad recently told me that Samantha had always been a good kid, a good student, a good softball player. But in the past few years, she worked even harder to accomplish her life goals. She didn’t let pain or illness or – recently – the knowledge that she wasn’t going to get better, stop her for a minute.
It made me think about how much everyone complains, about everything. Samantha’s one complaint? She wanted to live. She wanted to beat cancer, like Joe. That puts it all in perspective.
Samantha passed away peacefully at Children’s Hospital in Boston on Saturday evening, May 26. She had been in the hospital for some time and the last time I saw her, the week before she passed, she wasn’t up and around much. Her funeral was last Thursday, and her mom confided to me that she was afraid for the day to end. Because she knew everyone else would go back to their normal lives. But as a mother, her life will never be “normal” again.
There was nothing normal about Samantha. The first time I saw her (from afar), she was at our 2010 annual fall gala, sporting sparkly crutches! (Bedazzled herself, of course.) Her aunt and uncle brought her as a present, because she was a huge Patriots fan. She got her football signed by Joe and all the players and was pretty starry-eyed. (Later, when we became close, we would text back and forth during Pats games.) She eventually applied for a Foundation grant to help her family while she fought cancer. She was worried about not being able to work and help out with her college bills and car payments. Still, I only knew her through her story (posted in our patient profiles) and her pretty, smiling picture.
Last June, at the Relay for Life in Mansfield, I again saw the girl on sparkly crutches. I had to ask… Samantha? It was her. And that was the beginning of a personal relationship that led to her volunteering in our office and designing her junior year Management class project around our Foundation.
The first idea she proposed to her professor – a resource guide for cancer patients and families in Rhode Island and Massachusetts – was rejected. Samantha did it anyway, completing nearly all of Rhode Island and getting a good start on Mass. Because of her, we will finish this guide, a physical book that patients can use to easily locate information on everything from insurance help to therapy to financial assistance. You see, Samantha was a very determined person. She believed in the project, so she forged ahead, working through pain and sickness.
The second project Samantha posed to her professor – and convinced fellow students to help her with – was to plan our Patient Care Package Initiative. Through this program, our patient recipients will receive a mailed goodie box with small comforts that make hospital and treatment visits more bearable – lotion, lip balm, playing cards. They’ll also include cozy fleece blankets, which – in honor of Samantha – will be handmade “knots of love” blankets, with inspiring messages from their volunteer makers. They just have to be “Samantha blankets.”
Samantha was what I call an “extreme” crafter. She loved to scrapbook and make just about anything. Inspired by a Christmas tree that her grandmother once made from discarded bits of old costume jewelry, she crafted one herself last year. When she realized she had lots of little pieces left over, she started to make an angel. But she didn’t get to finish it. Last week, Samantha’s mom told me her grandma is going to finish the angel. And they are going to give it to me, for my office, so I’ll always have Samantha watching over me, with all her glitter and sparkle.
Rest in peace Samantha; we miss you already.
– Jen Andruzzi