Last year The News published "Hope & Heroes," profiles of Northeast Michigan residents who had either battled cancer or who were in the process of battling cancer. It was, to me, the best project we've done in the nearly 13 years I've been managing editor. It coincided with the first week of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
There have been some great projects we've done here, like "Alpena, We Can Do It," but Hope & Heroes to me was the best.
The We Can Do It publication was wrapped into Alpena's quest to land the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, as much of a long shot as it was, and was about all the area has to offer. However, Hope & Heroes was about the people who live here - your family, friends and neighbors. It was personal and the people who told their stories did so without reservation and without holding anything back. We also told about the cancer center, support groups and more.
But the spotlight, and what I always remember, was the people. Theirs were stories about what it was like for them from diagnosis through to that moment when we talked to them. There was:
Sadly, last month Kirby Diemond lost his battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He was just 26 years old and left behind a wife and four kids. Sadly, not every story ends happily.
Many of us who were at The News at the time of the project felt some sort of loss. Even though I never met him, I had to pause when I saw his name when the obituary came in because reading his story at the time we published it was a connection in some small way. I reread his story after receiving the obituary.
I know these stories touched many people in our area. I know this because I'm still told about it 10 months later. In the first couple of months after Hope & Heroes had been in the paper, I received calls, emails and had face-to-face conversations with people who appreciated it. It wasn't just friends and acquaintances, I was stopped in the stores by strangers who know who I was and wanted to thank me for Hope & Heroes. It wasn't just me, other staff members had the same thing happen to them.
I believe it was more than just the stories of cancer that touched people. There was inspiration in their words that anyone could latch onto and use for whatever hurdles they had or have in their own lives.
"During my journey I've never once asked 'why me.' I'm grateful that it was me and not my husband, children, family or friends," Penny Boldrey said in her story. And that kind of sentiment was echoed more than once if not in those exact words.
Every one of them had a fighter's mentality and thought not just of themselves, but of everyone around them. They had a message, and that message was of hope. That, in part, is how we came up with the name of the project because hope seemed to be the theme with all of them - hope to beat cancer, hope for a better day, hope that some day cancer can be a thing of the past.
And their stories and their hope is why we are doing that project again. Hope & Heroes will be published in October, but we need help. We are looking for people to profile again this year. We want to find more people and tell their stories of hope.
If you or someone you know has, or has had, cancer and would be willing to tell their story, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include contact information for the person whose story we could tell.
Hope & Heroes is more than stories about people with cancer, it's about hope, and perseverance, and survival, and determination, and love, and dreams, and so much more. And it's about heroes, everyday heroes trying to make it through life - one day at a time.