“No luminaria bags went on fire!”
“We staved off the rain through a combination of sheer will, celtic chanting and intense prayer!”
“WE MADE GOAL” (okay maybe that one’s not so little…).
I come early and often with my tales of Andrew Fierstein, mostly because I am in such constant awe of him. You can tell his inspiration is somewhat boundless, as this blog is barely a month old, and this is the second posting dedicated to him. He’s like a superhero mixed with a puppy mixed with something else that is totally awesome.
For those of you who don’t know his story, Andrew Fierstein is a 16-year-old cancer survivor/warrior. Andrew has been battling cancer for 10 years, ever since a lump was found on his arm after a bout of arm wrestling with his older brother Evan, turned out to be more than a bruise. Since that diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma, Andrew has had three rib removals, three brain surgeries (most recently this past February), a limb sparing surgery to his right arm, an allograft of a 40-year-old woman’s arm to recreate his elbow and the removal of the lower left lobe of his lung.
I got to know Andrew as the ACS Staff Partner for the Relay For Life of North Shore which he has been a part of for the past five years. He’s a Rock Star, not only the event’s highest fundraiser every year ($25,000-plus) and Team Captain of Nassau County’s largest team ($35,000 or more), but the unofficial spokesperson/mascot/Mayor. It’s like Andrew’s own personal Lollapalooza, except cleaner.
This year was no different, until, it almost was. On Thursday night, 48 hours prior to the Relay For Life of North Shore, I received a text message from Andrew’s mother, Kerry, telling me that Andrew was in surgery after they found some extra fluid in his brain that needed to be drained. I was at first shocked – there is a normal amount of fluid in the human brain!?!?! (I’m not that smart…) - and then devastated. To say my attachment to Andrew has grown beyond the bounds of ACS Director / Volunteer over the past 5 years, is an understatement. He’s kind of my idol. The text message ended with: “Relay in question, but not out.” (For those of you keeping score at home, this would be Andrew’s 2nd brain surgery in 4 months.)
Truth be told, Andrew had a history of these kind of shenanigans (attention hog!) right before Relay. Two years ago, he had brain surgery a mere 8 days before his Relay, and still made it to the event and stayed all night. However, two days prior? That might even be too much for Andrew.
Friday came and went with me nearly wiping out my BlackBerry’s battery checking for texts every few minutes. The odds weren’t with Andrew making it to Relay this year. I fantasized about all the different ways I could postpone the event, knowing that it was impossible, unfair and that my best idea was really just chaining up the fence to the field with a sign that had a sad face on it. Emoticons sometimes are really the best form of communication, you know?
As of Saturday morning, the day-of Relay, Andrew’s attendance was still in question. He was still in the hospital, but my former chair for the event, Lauren, was in constant contact with Andrew’s older sister, Dana, and there was a glimmer of hope. I’m not going to lie to you, Lauren, myself, and Lauren’s younger sister, Elizabeth (Andrew’s best friend), spent perhaps a little too much time sitting in the shade of my car trying to Skype with Andrew from my iPhone on the field, but the connection wouldn’t work. And then the hammer fell - A 2nd scan showed a bleed (nothing serious), but it was official: Andrew wasn’t going to come to Relay.
Remember a while back, I talked about Little Miracles? Well here it comes. It’s 5 pm, and the Survivor’s Reception is about to start, and Opening Ceremonies is a couple of hours later. It’s gotten a little hectic, and while Andrew is certainly on my mind, he has fallen to the background as staking sponsor signs and organizing chaperone forms and putting HOPE in the bleachers have sort of taken over the main brain space. (Sidenote: My job is weird sometimes.)
And then I see him. See him riding in on a golf cart as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Andrew has made it to Relay. I don’t know exactly what happened (I assume the fact that both his parents, Kerry & David, are doctors helped), but he was released from the hospital to attend Relay For Life. I imagine something super dramatic – like Andrew ripping out the tubes from his head in an act of defiance, fist in the air, and knocking over orderlies. Or his parents re-enacting some variation on the Shirley MacClaine “Give My Daughter the Shot!” scene from Terms of Endearment. But in fact, I do know what happened: A little miracle.
After giving Andrew, his parents, and almost anyone in the general vicinity a hug (sorry about that Joe, the custodian…), it suddenly was time to have Opening Ceremonies. And well, and then this happened…
Andrew stayed at Relay until 2 am, when his sister all but dragged him off the field. The entire time, the smile never left his face. Andrew supercharged the Relay For Life of North Shore to a $115,000 fundraising total. And while people were there for all their own reasons to Relay, it was Andrew’s spirit that was infectious throughout the night.
5 years ago when I started with ACS as a Director for Special Events in the Nassau Region, I randomly got handed 3 Relay For Life events. It’s only now that I realize how blessed I am that North Shore was one of them. Because it made me a footnote, a passing mention, in the Story of Andrew Fierstein. And it’s been the best part of my job.