Rethink Remembers: Michelle Riccio
It was Michelle’s blog 3 Strikes I’m Out that really made me notice her and love her tenacity. She had a passion for baseball and lived by Babe Ruth’s mantra, “Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”. There is no one I can think of who embodied this more than Michelle.
3 Strikes I’m Out was about Michelle’s foray into cancer support after being diagnosed with metastatic cancer in February 2014. This exploration started by immersing herself in not one, but three major cancer programs and the take-home for her from these experiences was that this type of conventional support (group, conferences and retreats) was not for her. She was going to find a way to cope with her diagnosis– on her terms.
I would later find out once we got to know each other over Dim Sum and our love of Blue Jays baseball there was nothing half-assed about the way she approached her cancer. She would try everything and she would ultimately decide if it worked for her not. If it didn’t work, Michelle cut it lose and moved on to what was next – a new treatment, an alternative diet, sharing her story on National television so that other people understood metastatic cancer and those going through it didn’t have to feel so alone. From my perspective, she rarely looked behind her and kept her eyes on the ball, at all times. She was going to bat with cancer and she believed she was winning every time a treatment or drug kept her stable, even for a short time.
Michelle was an advocate for more research in metastatic cancer and pushed for more clinical trials and new drugs. I witnessed this at the most basic level when she would share her story with various pharma companies always asking in a commanding and compassionate voice to keep doing what they are doing so that she could continue to watch her son grow up. She would turn to me in the parking lot and say, “I was such a blubbering mess. It was awful.” No, it was brilliant, Michelle, because they not only heard you, they felt connected to the work and compelled to make a difference because of you.
The last time I saw Michelle I sat beside her on a panel for the show City Line. I was positioned as the “expert” in talking to kids about cancer and she was one of two young women sharing her experience. In her determined way, Michelle spoke eloquently about the ups and downs of parenting with a terminal illness, she used humour whenever she could and she inspired the audience of mostly mothers to be the best versions of themselves, despite trying circumstances. She was, in fact, the expert and a super hero to many.
Patti Smith once said “Never let go of the fiery sadness called desire”. I never saw Michelle as sad, ever. Her desire to live as well as she could, for as long as she could, was her super power. I know I speak for all of us who had the privilege of knowing her, laughing with her, working with her and loving her that we will miss her and we will continue to go to bat for her, and all women with breast cancer.
-Shawna + The Rethink Team