I can’t believe it’s been almost six years since we last spoke, watched Jeopardy together, or laughed at farts. No matter how much time has passed, it seems like it’s been days and decades at the same time.
There is an indescribable part of me that left with you the day you died. It feels like a physical piece of me is missing, though others cannot see it. Through doing the things you would have done, had melanoma not cut your life short—help others, advocate for change, run, travel, and eat a lot of great food—I’ve been able to bring a small piece home.
I challenge myself to try new things and say yes to interesting opportunities. I run that extra mile even when I’m out of breath because I’m alive and capable. I want to, and need to, experience enough life for the both of us.
Since going to medical school wasn’t an option for me, I worked with our family to create the Colin J. Haller Memorial Scholarship for students pursuing a health-related degree. You would have been impressed with our hustle. Within two years, we raised $20,000 while doing things you liked to do—we held two bull roasts and sold massive amounts of stuff at the Butcher’s Hill Flea Market. People were more than willing to donate. Everyone misses you.
Once we hit the endowed mark, I started to feel the ache of that missing piece more, but I was a bit busy. We had two kids in two years, and I was on doctor-prescribed bedrest both times. During this period, I cycled through the stages of grief repeatedly. How could you not be here to laugh at the size of my stomach or the size of the baby’s cheeks?
The Ulman Foundation, a nonprofit that supports young adults and their loved ones affected by cancer, came into my life at the right time. To be honest, my friend had been subtly encouraging me for the past few years to volunteer with the Ulman Foundation, but I was scared. I was afraid of being around cancer patients and survivors, around people who had also lost someone to cancer. I was worried it would remind me too much of your journey. I wanted to remember the Colin that could run faster than me, that could reach the top shelf without a step stool, and that could eat two chipotle burritos in one sitting.
When my friend asked me to apply for the GameChangers program, I knew I needed to take the leap. It’s a year-long program for young professionals (generously defined as 21-39 years of age) to learn the ins and outs of fundraising and networking while volunteering for a worthy cause. I was hopeful that GameChangers would provide me with the courage and knowledge to tackle whatever challenge I chose next in my goal to live for you. Little did I know, it would provide me with so much more.
During the first GameChangers meeting, we learned more about the Ulman Foundation. They explained how their social events often provide young adults and their families with an unintentional, natural group therapy session. I remember thinking how brilliant that was, a resource without being in your face. As I went through the program and learned more about my fellow GameChangers, a light bulb went off—I too was in the middle of a group therapy session.
This was the first time I was around other people that got it. The people I met through my work with GameChangers and the connections made to others impacted by cancer—the connection I was trying to avoid to keep the grief at bay—was actually the connection I needed.
We met once a month, and each time it was a mix of social (food + drink + hijinks), volunteering (doing good stuff together), and learning (smart people leading workshops and panels). One workshop you would have loved was with a professional negotiator. The key to a successful negotiation is to ask why questions over and over until we both learn what the other wants and can easily determine a solution that aligns with both of our goals. Much easier than the old-fashioned arm twist and screaming for mom.
GameChangers provides a framework and support for professional development, networking, and volunteering, but it’s really what you make of it. I leaned in on every opportunity—yes, I’ll speak at the board meeting; absolutely I want to plan a drag bingo fundraiser; sure thing, meet you at WBAL at the crack of dawn for a morning show segment to talk about GameChangers and Blue Jeans and Bow Ties. It got me out there, it got me thinking, and it got me to keep on making a difference.
These opportunities to say yes to things I had been avoiding since you passed helped me push through. Every time I spoke about you, I cried. Sometimes it was loud, snotty crying in front of important people. But they got it. It’s the right audience for ugly crying. And I got better at predicting and preparing for it after a while.
I do wish I had spent more time building friendships with the other GameChangers, but I know I was still apprehensive in this unique environment of people that could see the missing piece that most others cannot. Many of the GameChangers had summer-camp worthy friendships blossom out of the experience.
GameChangers is great for young professionals that aren’t sure where to go next in their career or their advocacy journeys and serves as the perfect introduction on all the ways you can help the young adult cancer community. I just signed up as a volunteer Sherpa for Ulman’s Cancer to 5K.
Volunteering with Ulman is an amazing way to help others, but as I reflect, I recognize how much they have helped me. Even right now. When they asked me to write a blog post about my GameChangers experience, I was happy to help. Now as I close this letter, I realize how much I needed to write to you.
Ulman Foundation continues to provide me with the hand that I didn’t know I desperately needed. I wish you were here to see the amazing things we are doing for the young adult cancer community. I know you would be proud.
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