Giving Back..

Miles For Michael

The charity which personally opened my mind to giving back.

My Uncle Mike passed away Wednesday, June 28, 2006 at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, in Plains Township, PA. He was only 43 years old. From the day he was diagnosed until the day he left us was only 14 months. Even though my Uncle Mike didn't technically have much time left, what he did with that time he did have was astonishing. Fairly soon after his diagnoses and a few surgeries he wasn't able to speak, so he also did all of this with no "voice" but his pad and pen proved to be an extremely effective tool. Uncle Mike was was always a great communicator, he spoke at mass on an almost weekly basis, but even though God took his voice he overcame it and still created one of the most successful and beneficial local cancer charities in this area to date. Before I get too far along in this story I want to also mention Michael was my Godfather, and he was the absolute best Godfather a kid could have asked for. Michael Joyce passed away from cancer. Yes the terrible disease which so many people & peoples families have struggled with. He suffered from head and neck cancer specifically.

What I was never told when he was diagnosed was how severe it was. When I look back at everything now and some years to process everything; I truly believe his goal was to create this program; which he managed to lay the foundation for; and after his death it continues on until this day bigger, and better than ever. My Uncle Mike was the President of Joyce Financial Group (which continues on) so he was really good with money and investing. However he was also very good at noticing when people needed help with their money. He always provided that help, even at work, and even when maybe it wasn't the most profitable thing for him to do at the time. When I was younger (12-15+ years ago) I remember how personal his relationships were with his clients and how he noticed & remembered the most trivial things about each person. This tradition is still honored at the company he started.

It was that selflessness that led to the formation of the Miles for Michael Event held on Saturday, June 17, 2006. This was the inaugural event. It was held at the Pittston Area High School's football stadium. The basic idea was to walk around the track in unity with current diagnosed cancer patients, people who have made full recoveries, all of his family, and friends. It also served as a living memorial. I can remember that day like it was yesterday. My Uncle Mike would not allow his ailments to defeat him that day. He did walk around the track even though by this time he could not speak, he lost about 65% of his body mass, and he was only able to eat / drink through a feeding tube. But none of that mattered to him, he was going to show people even someone in his position could make a difference. I strongly believe the commitment he showed that day is still what keeps this charity going so strong.

Throughout his 14-month battle with head and neck cancer, Michael never asked for anything, but asked his friends to provide support to other families who might not be as capable of handling the financial burdens of long-distance treatments. Although the original goal of the original Miles for Michael Event was $10,000, more than $100,000 was raised. A large portion was given to the American Cancer Society – Wyoming Valley Unit for cancer research, and $50,000 went toward establishing a permanent fund within The Luzerne Foundation. This is where the current and 10 year long standing charity has all of it's roots now. All of the money raised through The Miles For Michael organization goes to The Luzerne Foundation since then. From the inception of the Miles For Michael charity we have raised over $1,000,000.00. My Uncle Mike probably wouldn't believe me if I told him this unless I showed him all of the balance sheets etc. (o.o)

What my Uncle Mike noticed most during his time while receiving treatment was the tremendous strain it put on other people's ability to be with their loved ones during the time they needed them most. He realized unless you and your entire family lived near a cancer treatment center it was extremely hard to pay for lodging, gas, and food for the entire family to stay with the person who they love most. We live in Pittston, PA which is situated about 1 ½ to 2 hours from NYC and about 1 ½ to 2 hours from Philadelphia. We are actually considered luckier than most. My uncle and his family only had to travel the 120 miles to Philly for treatment. Other people have to travel much further and struggled to keep up with the simple necessities like gas, food, and lodging. He literally saw families sleeping in the hospital do to this reason, and he wanted to do something about it. This is how the idea was born. My Uncle Mike was very committed to his church; St. Mary's in Avoca, PA. He read at mass at least a few times per month before he was sick. What I am trying to say is he was always thinking about others, even before this happened to him. This just shined a tremendous light upon something he was able to make a permanent difference within our community.

So what exactly does the Miles For Michael charity do? It's simple really, and that's how Uncle Mike wanted it to be. When a family is suffering with a someone going through the rigors of treatment and they find themselves unable to be able to afford the necessities like gas, groceries, lodging, and other unforeseen things like tolls during travel they can email me and I will forward your request to the proper people; those people being Mary Rossi who was a founding member and has been with us from the start, and Kristy Rosiak another founding member of the Miles For Michael organization. Without Mary & Kristy the day to day operations would never had been able to succeed. They decided to donate limitless amounts of time and energy to the cause as well. Now once you have been contacted by someone associated with the charity they will ask a few questions like; where do you live (this is a localized charity), what kind of cancer does your loved one have, and how can we help? After those questions are answered the recipient will then have a pre-paid Visa card sent to them with a predetermined amount of money on it so you won't need to stress or worry about the essentials anymore! Families who are going through the stress of getting their loved on treatment should not have the added stress of how are we going to pay for gas to get to the treatment center etc.

People who never had a family member deal with cancer or have dealt with it themselves have no idea how expensive getting treatment is. The majority of the patients money and their families will be used to try and save the life of this precious individual; so things like food & gas get overlooked. That is how people end up sleeping in the hospitals, and running out of gas. People are so consumed by the disease and just getting better or getting their loved one better they will spend all of their money to do it. Like I said though, then the necessities are overlooked.

The most amazing thing about this charity is how many people we have helped, and a lot of those people who got better and then back to work wanted to more or less "pay it forward". They reimbursed the charity for the money which was given to them during their time of need because it meant so much to them during the time. They would like to be a part of the organization itself once they are better. The first time I was told "Jane Doe" paid back in full the money she was given I literally held back tears (only because I was at work). If my Uncle Mike knew this is how Miles For Michael would have turned out over the years I don't think he could be more happy.

In a basic sense the fund provides pre-paid credit cards to address the needs of cancer patients and their families, the Fund will provide support for unexpected expenses such as travel, lodging, food, gas, and tolls that will help families to remain with loved ones during treatment and recovery.