Months ago, I received a message on my business phone. The woman on my voicemail asked me to call her, but she gave no hint of why she wanted to speak. Many of the messages that come through our system are wrong numbers. Apparently, a water company and IAmElemental share a similar business number. As a result, I assumed that, like many others, this woman wanted to cancel her water delivery for the month. Though it was the weekend, I was worried that I would forget to return the call. So, I walked to the outfield just before the start of my 10-year-old’s Little League play-off game and dialed her number. My husband found me crying in right field shortly afterward.
The caller, Louise, explained to me that her 14-year-old-granddaughter, Anna, had been fighting a rare adult form of cancer called epithlioid sarcoma for four years. Although she had been scheduled to arrive in New York to participate in a new protocol, her family had just learned from her Michigan doctors that the most recent round of tests showed that the cancer had progressed. Not only did Anna no longer qualify for the new protocol, she only had a few weeks left to live.
So, why was Louise calling me?
It just so happened that her granddaughter was an IAmElemental super fan. Months earlier, Anna had convinced her grandmother to buy a set of our 4″ Courage female action figures for her and her cousins. And she had made sure that her grandmother knew that our second series of figures, Wisdom, would be available for purchase later this year.
Louise asked me, “I know that the figures aren’t for sale yet, but is there anything that Anna can see before it’s too late?”
We immediately sent her our first round of Wisdom prototypes, a large 6″ Courage figure, a hat, some stickers, and a poster of Bravery with Anna’s name on the shield.
I spoke with Louise again a few days later. She shared with me how happy Anna had been to have the opportunity to examine each of the new figures. She also said that Anna had made her grandmother promise to buy a set of our new Wisdom figures for her cousins when they were available. “Because,” Anna told her, “these are really important.”
I cannot express how devastated I was to learn of Anna’s death so soon after our call. Her grandmother sent me a note with some pictures of Anna and her Wisdom care package. Louise wrote about how much Anna loved her IAmElemental action figures and “all that they stood for.” And she thanked me for the special kindness we had shown her granddaughter.
But, the truth is, it is Anna who was special. It is Anna who understood – more than I could ever dream – about Courage and Superpowers and Character. It is Anna who lifted my spirits. And it is Anna who continues, every day, to push and inspire me and the entire IAmElemental team.
I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was eight. It was, and remains, the most difficult thing I have ever had to process. But, my grandparents struggled much more than I did to deal with the death of their beloved daughter. It was unnatural, they would say, for a parent to have to bury a child. It messes with the natural order of things. And they were right.
My sons each had a friend diagnosed with cancer last year. One was 17 years old, and the other was 10 years old. Both struggled through their treatments, but they both emerged cancer-free. And, though I spent a lot of sleepless nights worrying about them and their families, I was lulled into a false sense of security when both children responded so well to treatment.
Anna’s story brought me back to reality.
I reached out to Anna’s family and asked for permission to honor Anna and share both the story of her illness, and the story of her connection to IAmElemental with a larger audience. Despite the fact that the Bosma family is mired in the deep pain that accompanies profound loss, Anna’s father, Buck, graciously took my call. We spoke at length about Anna; about how hard she fought, and how many hundreds of hearts like mine she had touched along the way. There were over 700 people at her funeral.
In addition to her love of IAmElemental, and the cancer struggle that connected us, another thing that Anna and I shared was a love of reading. Buck Bosma is a book lover, and he passed that love to Anna just as my mother did to me. After my mother’s death, books became my salvation. When I held a book in my hands, I felt transported into a universe composed of an alternate reality. I got to experience the lives of the story’s characters right alongside them. I could see what they saw, think what they thought, and feel what they felt. Anna used books in the exact same way.
Not only that, but because she internalized their messages, books made Anna wise beyond her years. And she shared that wisdom with everyone she encountered. Like the IAmElemental team, she understood that literacy is the ultimate superpower. And she used that power as one of her many tools to forge ahead and fight. Her courage, her father tells me, Anna inherited from her mother, Heidi. Buck says that it was Heidi who, both through her DNA and her own grit, inspired Anna to fight as long as she did.
We are so grateful to Buck and Heidi Bosma for allowing us to celebrate Anna’s life, and for offering to work with us to bring Courage to children and families like theirs. As we say in the IAmElemental universe: Real heroes walk among us…sometimes, only for a short while.