To children battling cancer, your smile was my son’s wish

To: Children battling cancer

From: Les (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To children battling cancer,

You may have never met my son Mikey, but he too knew how it felt to be stuck in the hospital for days on end. He knew how it felt to be pricked with needles and pumped with medicine while other kids are at baseball or soccer practice. Mikey knew what it was like to lose his hair and to experience side effects from treatments. Just like you, Mikey battled cancer. He was diagnosed one day after his 15th birthday.

Les with his son Mikey.

I remember this moment while he was hooked up to a machine for his chemotherapy. At that point, he had relapsed and his future was unclear. We were just living one day at a time. He told me he missed his friends. He told me cancer made him feel isolated from people.

Then, Make-A-Wish Foundation offered Mikey the chance to make a wish of his own. Mikey asked if he could start his own charity, providing electronics to kids like you, kids with cancer. The idea was to make sure you could remain connected to the world beyond your hospital bed. His aunt bought him electronics, which allowed him to see the benefits of these devices.

At the time, The Make-A-Wish Foundation told him starting his own charity wasn’t an option. So instead, he cleverly asked for a shopping spree at Best Buy. However, the shopping spree wasn’t to add to his collection of goods. He bought a bunch of electronics and went to the local hospital where he gave them all away. That’s how Mikey’s Way, a non-profit that travels the country providing brand new electronics to children with cancer, started.

With the help of the community, Mikey raised the first $250,000. He started Mikey’s Way Days. That’s where we go to hospitals to give you and your peers gifts. Mikey did 17 of those days, personally handing out electronics to children in hospitals around the country.

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Mikey founded Mikey’s Way during his own battle with cancer.

Mikey truly was an incredible person. Cancer never defined him, and he would tell you that it doesn’t define you either. He didn’t let cancer stop him from becoming valedictorian of his graduating class, despite missing half of high school.  Cancer didn’t stop him from attending Harvard, where he was studying to be a scientist so he could cure cancer, so he could cure all of you. Despite only being able to go through one full year of college, his research and his writings were published in the Harvard Science Review as well as the Journal of Palliative and Supportive Care. As a child, you might not know what all of that is, but I assure you it means cancer didn’t stop him from working hard to help you in every possible way that he could.

While Mikey was brilliant, I don’t think his intelligence is the most remarkable aspect of his legacy.  Mikey was the baby in our family, the youngest of three. He was treated as such and acted as such. But as he maintained his sense of humor, cancer transformed him into a wise old man. I think it’s that wisdom that’s left an indelible mark on you, the children that receive Mikey’s Way gifts, and every person who knows his story.

Mikey truly embodied the words he spoke as he once said, “The best gift you can get is to give to another person.”

That’s why every time he gave a gift to a child like you, he felt the excitement of his Make-A-Wish coming true all over again.

Mikey truly embodied the words he spoke as he once said, “The best gift you can get is to give to another person.”

Mikey wanted to instill hope. He wanted to encourage you to never give up, as he never did. Even though Mikey endured his own battle with cancer, he felt his journey wasn’t and shouldn’t be all about him and he wanted to relay that message to others. Plus, Mikey didn’t want to focus on his relapse. Instead, he wanted to devote his attention to positivity, which for him was providing kids like you electronics and seeing the smiles that followed.

Mikey’s Way has given away over 7,000 electronics.

Unfortunately, Mikey is no longer here to give you a laptop or an iPod Touch but I am. Every single time I give a gift to one of you, I feel my son next to me.  I love seeing your faces light up when you realize why I am there to see you. It probably brings me as much, if not more joy, to give you a computer or a tablet than it does for you to receive it.

Since Mikey’s Way started in 2005 we have given away more than 7,000 gifts.  Every one of the gifts we offer you is geared toward making sure you stay connected to people outside of the hospital. Each electronic has Skype or Facetime. We want to make sure you can get on wifi and download games and videos.

We have progressed quite a bit since Mikey personally gave out his last gift more than ten years ago, but I am sure he’d say, “Dad, What took you so long? I could have figured out a way to get to 7,000 gifts way faster.”

Les personally gives the gifts to each child.

My son liked to tease me but I know he would be very proud of how we’ve grown and how much we have given to all of you.

Mikey may have never gotten the chance to meet you but he had you in his mind and his heart all along. He never wanted you to be bored or feel alone. And while he succeeded in finding a way to keep you all connected to the world, he also managed to keep all of us, especially me, connected to him.

If you don’t have a new tablet to read this on, let me know.

Les Aka Mikey's dad
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