Laura Stegenga is a 47-year-old mother of two who was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in July. The news came as a shock, particularly as it was delivered just eight weeks after Stegenga received a completely clear mammogram result.
“My family also has been diagnosed as an extension of me,” says Stegenga, “and they have to deal with what it means to them, and it’s so painful to watch.”
But not everything is painful. Last week, Stegenga arrived home to her residence in Minneapolis after a chemotherapy treatment and found a sight she calls “glorious.” Her mail carrier, Michele Slack, had set up 101 red heart-shaped balloons in Stegenga’s yard.
All of the balloons were donated by Stegenga’s neighbors on Slack’s mail route, many of whom Stegenga had never met but who were nonetheless touched by her story. Several of them also donated extra money to help offset her treatment costs.
Slack was inspired to set up the balloon project because she is a breast cancer survivor and felt a special pull to do something to help Stegenga. “It just sort of ate at me,” she says, “because hope and having power and positive thinking has a lot to do with healing and overcoming a serious illness.”
Many of the balloons say the name of one of the donors on them. Others are completely anonymous. Stegenga choked up as she read a card on one of the balloons. “That’s a neighbor who didn’t even tell me their name who donated that.”
The gift also came with a large sidewalk-chalk message on Stegenga’s driveway, accompanied by chalk drawings of even more hearts: “Hearts of hope from friends, neighbors, and strangers.”
We wish Laura Stegenga all the best as she pursues treatment and fights against breast cancer. We’d also like to join her in thanking her many generous neighbors and particularly mail carrier Michele Slack, whose caring heart is the reason for the existence of this beautiful event. We need more people like this in the world.
Check out the video below to see the beautiful spectacle Laura’s neighbors and friends put together for her. Don’t forget to grab the tissues first!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?