“Son, your life made me whole in spirit and heart. You will always be my guiding light. I am better for knowing you. Love, Mom.” – Arlene, Michael’s mom

I first heard Michael’s story after his mom, Arlene, donated to Dr. Charles Keller’s childhood muscle cancer project. Arlene posted a story about Michael that included a link to his obituary, which I read. Michael died in January of this year, so Arlene’s pain is still raw. It touched me so deeply that despite the personal grief she was facing, she wanted to honor Mike’s memory by donating to research that hopefully leads to a world where other mothers aren’t forced to feel this same gut-wrenching pain. To be faced with this same loss, to lose their child, their best friend.

Michael’s spirit exudes from his pictures.  Imaginative, creative, and inquisitive are only a few words to describe Mike’s beautiful spirit. He was a dedicated fan of the Orioles and Ravens. A life-long musician, Mike started to study Suzuki violin at the age of three. He took clarinet and saxophone lessons and studied piano for many years. He played guitar, bass guitar, drums/percussion and was an accomplished vocalist, and even composed original music. Michael continued to work on his music, even as he faced debilitating treatments for his cancer.

As Michael’s obituary reads, “In 2008 he was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, and began extensive treatment for the disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The doctors, nurses and staff at Johns Hopkins provided Michael with aggressive and compassionate treatment during his four-year plus fight with cancer. Michael believed in combining the best of both western and eastern medicine throughout his treatment; he also received traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, was an advocate of eating healthy food, and enjoyed cooking and family meals. He successfully had a bone marrow transplant, but a resurgence of the original cancer proved too much.”

During this time, Michael was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, School of Computer Science and began his studies there in 2010. Gaining admission was the fulfillment of a life-long dream, “and his days there proved to be the most fulfilling and satisfying of his life.” After a relapse forced him to defer his enrollment, he continued his intellectual growth at Loyola University and became active in the Intervarsity Campus Ministry, which became an integral part of his life.

Michael died on January 28, 2013 surrounded by his family and friends. Arlene summed up her and Michael’s hopes best, ”Over those four years our experience was that medical science is pretty great at shrinking tumors, delivering chemo and dealing with the side effects. The problem is that the rhabdo kept on returning in different places. That is a metastatic disease. Why, when PET scans and MRI are finally clear, and bone marrow aspirations show no disease, why does the cancer reappear? Why does rhabdo metastasize, and how can we stop it? My son wanted this question answered in his lifetime, but it was not to be, but there are many children fighting today, with the same grim prognosis.”

The world felt a great loss the day that cancer took Michael. But no one felt that loss more than Arlene. Michael’s mom. His best friend. When I asked Arlene if I could share Michael’s story, I was truly moved by her response, “Mike would want to inspire others, and be involved in the fundraising needed to find a cure for rhabdomyosarcoma, and metastasis in general. Unfortunately, Mike was not, and will not be the last to be taken, but with hope and people in the trenches, like Charles Keller, maybe the answers will be around the corner. I hope so.”

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