By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Life’s comings and goings are difficult to explain. Some lives are long, well-lived, even inspirational. Others are just too short.
Twenty-three-year old Hope Bertelsen stayed as long as she could. Then her spirit became too restless to be contained in a body that was fragile for too long.
On Sunday, Hope, one of the young people we’ve come to know through the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for pediatric cancer, died from complications of her cancer, with her family around her, just outside of Princeton.
Hope was diagnosed with a stage-4 neuroblastoma when she was 12.
Through years of chemotherapy and experimental treatments, Hope fought a difficult battle, but like her name, she never gave up hope that medical science would somehow find a way to help extend her life, possibly even cure her.
I spent the day with Hope at the end of May, right before her family vacation in Florida. For the Alex’s Phone Bank on June 5, we planned a special feature on Hope, how she was one of the “older faces” of this childhood cancer. That day, she was delightful, masked any discomfort she may have been feeling, and spoke openly about her cancer and that now, there would be no other treatment available to her.
She knew what that meant.
“It helps that I have faith. I believe that there is something waiting for me, after this. I will see all my family again. All of this ties together, in that I know that I have lived my life as well as I possibly can. And will continue to do so. I am very happy with who I am and that makes a difference.”
In her faithfulness, Hope prayed for strength, but not for herself. This is what she told me.
“I actually pray more for my family, more than me. For me, it’s usually, whatever is Your Will, I trust You. Please keep my family safe.”
When Hope arrived at our CBS3 Studios for the Alex’s Phone Bank on June 5, she and her mom, Gemma, had just spent the three days before at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Hope had been in increasing pain while on vacation. They wanted to know what changed. The scans showed two new tumors on her spine. The doctors’ recommendation was “palliative” care – pain medicine and hospice care. Hope’s Mom didn’t want us to talk about the hospice order during our live interview. I agreed it was private, but looking at Gemma’s expression as she told me, I knew a creeping reality was closer than she had imagined.
As we ate pizza in our station “kitchen” there was one more remarkable “Hope Moment.” She told me that she had decided not to take a full dose of pain medicine, because she wanted to be clear headed.
Why? So she could speak to the importance of finding new and better treatments for childhood cancers. They’re different than adult cancers, she explained. There aren’t as many treatment options. Children’s systems are more delicate in some ways, more resilient in others. She wanted to encourage brilliant minds to keep thinking.
Hope was brilliant in her appeal, all the while with a smile, eager to take a “selfie” with a sour lemon face, and then, head home, her mission accomplished.
A memorial service will be held Wednesday, June 18 in Belle Mead, New Jersey.
I believe the real memorial will be in the continuing effort to stay dedicated to the science that will bring new solutions and stay focused on a young woman’s faith that there are new solutions to be found.
Today, Hope Bertelsen’s courageous fight is over. Her inspiration lives on.
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