Westport is fortunate to be filled with funds and foundations. Each has carved out its own niche. All do good work, often with little recognition.
All too are worthy of mention. But at the top of any list must be the Susan Fund.
Formed more than 25 years ago, it honors Susan Lloyd — a Staples cheerleader who lost a leg, and eventually her life, to cancer. Each year the fund allows young cancer patients throughout Fairfield County to attend college. This year it passed the $1 million mark in awards.
Late last month the Susan Fund held its annual reception at the Unitarian Church. Over $60,000 in grants went to 22 students. Two were from Westport: Eric Goldschmidt, a junior at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and Marisa Dabice, a University of Colorado senior.
The ceremony is always moving. Board members — who get very close to recipients during the yearly interview process — enjoy seeing them in a relaxed setting. Recipients — who are recognized for their courageous efforts — can share their successes with other cancer patients. The battle against cancer can be lonely, but the Susan Fund makes it a family effort.
One of the highlights last week was Marisa’s speech. She said:
I was 17 years old and on the verge of graduation from Staples. Less than 2 years earlier I was diagnosed with alveolar soft part sarcoma – an extremely rare type of cancer that has affected no more than 300 people worldwide.
During this time, I refused to let cancer affect my life more than it had to. I did not speak with anyone about my “situation,” and for the sake of my family I never cried, nor did I express any sort of anger or sadness. Because I felt that I could relate to no one and was incapable of being understood, I kept all my feelings on an emotional back burner.
This all changed the day a friend of the family told me about The Susan Fund. At that moment, everything changed. For the first time I would be challenged to acknowledge my cancer as reality. In doing so, I began to see the Susan Fund as an opportunity to look to the future, and concentrate on the things I wanted to accomplish.
I vividly remember my first interview with the board of directors. I expected to meet just with Ann Lloyd to discuss my scholarship application. When I walked into the room there were 13 smiling faces. All were interested in knowing more about me and what I wanted to accomplish at the University of Colorado.
That day I fell in love with everyone in that room at Town Hall. They challenged me to question my educational and career goals, and allowed to me to reflect on the life I would live post-cancer. It was exhilarating to be defined not by the randomness of my illness, but to be defined — and ultimately rewarded — for the things I cherish most in life: international and domestic volunteerism, a strong work ethic, travel abroad, and academic success.
Every year since, I have looked forward to my next Susan Fund application and meeting with the board. It allows me to experience a yearly self-reflection of my goals and opportunities, while knowing that a few thousand miles away from Boulder there are people who not only truly care for me, but believe I am capable of achieving my goals. This support group encourages me to make the best of every educational opportunity, and challenges me to work with diligence and determination in every class.
With the support of The Susan Fund’s amazing group of directors I have excelled at my major of international relations, traveled extensively throughout Europe, worked for the Council on International Educational Exchange in Sevilla (where I became fluent in Spanish), and made the Dean’s List. I have been motivated to achieve my yearly goals, and I continue to create new.
The love and support I have felt from The Susan Fund board these past 4 years is immeasurable, and the admiration I have for them is unquestionable. I thank the Susan Fund each day of my life for believing in a 17-year-old girl who was unsure of what she was capable of, and helping her grow into a young woman who knows that she can do it all.
(To learn more about the Susan Fund — or donate to it — click here.)