Those who know me know that I was devastated in early December when my friend Mathias Giordano passed away from osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. Even though I knew in August from Mathias’ mom, Roya, that there were no further treatments available, I was not prepared for the news that Mathias passed away on December 7, 2014.
I have used a lot of words to describe this incredible boy: special, impressive, remarkable, compassionate, wise, courageous, strong. He had a huge heart, and he openly shared it with everyone he met. His smile lit up the room.
But, what, really was so special about him? Anyone can use adjectives to describe another person and when you say them with great emphasis or put them in italics, they make an even greater impression. And a lot of people throw around words like this to describe people on a regular basis.
That’s the hard part. Mathias really was all of these things…and so much more. He deserves all of these words – and great inflection and intonation when they are said.
Something drew me to him almost immediately when he and his family arrived at Camp Sunshine in 2013. I remember very clearly seeing them get out of the car and approach us all by the front door – Mathias and his younger brother Troy in matching Nationals shirts.
How did I know – really know – that Mathias and his family were so special, impressive, remarkable, compassionate, wise, courageous, strong? Their actions and values jumped out at me; they got my attention in ways that really touched my heart and lifted me up.
I knew it all week when I was in and out of the 9-12 year olds’ group and saw Mathias participating fully in every activity despite being on crutches and having only one leg. (Mathias’ right leg was amputated from the knee down in an attempt to remove his cancer and as a treatment option. Unfortunately, the cancer had already spread so this drastic measure did not have its intended outcome.)
I knew it when his mother said to me, “I don’t wish this on anyone, but I’m just glad it happened to someone who could handle it like my son.”
I knew it when I talked with Mathias and he was so real. There was nothing different about him, yet everything was different about him. But, this had nothing to do with his pediatric cancer. When you talked to him, you felt like you were talking to an 11-year-old boy who was very mature, very grounded, and very sincere. I am always drawn to real people, and this was no exception.
I knew it afterwards when following his parents on Facebook, so many of their efforts centered on raising awareness and helping others with cancer (or not). A bone marrow transplant could not have saved Mathias, but he understood the value of this and wanted to get as many people as possible to register with Be The Match as bone marrow donors. Additionally, he knew how important the act of donating blood was for those affected by cancer. Many cancer patients need regular blood transfusions. He and his family made it their priority to encourage everyone they know to give blood and to do so consistently every eight weeks.
I knew it when he and his family – together with Jay Coakley of Ellie’s Hats – worked so hard to secure the required number of license plate applications for a gold ribbon childhood cancer awareness license plate in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mathias felt strongly that the gold ribbon symbolizing childhood cancer awareness should be as well known as the pink ribbon symbolizing breast cancer awareness.
I knew it when they did this in the last few weeks of Mathias’ life.
I knew it the day I wasn’t having a good day at school and looked on Facebook only to see a picture of Mathias learning to walk on his new prosthetic leg. How could my bad day compare in any way to this?
I knew it because Mathias and Troy were always ready to laugh, almost always smiling.
I knew it when I looked across the pond at Camp Sunshine’s wishboat ceremony on the last day in August 2014 and saw Roya participating and engaging and thought, “What is your wish when you know there are no more treatment options for your child?”
I knew it when Roya said after Mathias died: “The fight continues. It’s not anymore for Mathias, but it’s for your kids. It’s for your grandkids. It’s for your neighbors’ kids. Be aware of the gold ribbon when you see it and know that we need a cure.”
I knew it when Mathias chose #TeamMathias12 over #MathiasStrong for the third line of a brick to be purchased at Camp Sunshine in his honor.
What does it mean to be Mathias Strong? It means all of this and more. It means even in bad times, you laugh and smile because that’s what it’s your heart. It means doing that and at the same time keeping it real. It means you keep going when you are in pain, when you can’t walk (literally), when you hear bad news. It means thinking about others before you think about yourself. It means embracing a cause that matters to you and giving it your all, no matter your own circumstances. It means inspiring others to keep fighting for this cause even after you’re gone.
This is how I know that Mathias Giordano and his family are so special, impressive, remarkable, compassionate, wise, courageous, strong – and my heart is better and stronger because I know this and have experienced it.
To be further inspired Mathias’ impact, you can click here:
http://www.fox5dc.com/news/1889495-story (a news clip about the childhood cancer awareness license plate from April 2015)
http://www.fox5dc.com/news/1503116-story (a news clip about the childhood cancer awareness license plate from February 2015)
http://momastery.com/blog/2014/12/04/read-this-post-win-a-jeep/ (a beautiful blog entry by Glennon Doyle Melton, who is friends with Mathias’ orthodontist and his wife, from December 2014)
Posted April 1, 2015; updated December 6, 2015.