Michael Bragalone had everything. He was married to the love of his life, Candace, and had just welcomed his first child, a daughter. Graduation was pending, which would bring new career prospects. Michael, the kid who’d been afraid of his own shadow, was starting anew. Then, in the midst of celebration, he received a shattering diagnosis: cancer.
“Nothing made sense to me,” he said of that time. “I was overwhelmed, dismayed for a very long time.” He coped by shutting out the world, which brought a false sense of safety, and loneliness. He didn’t know anyone else who was going through his particular situation and refused to burden anyone with his intrusive thoughts. “It was only natural to worry about dying, leaving my family alone,” he said. Suddenly he was that scared little kid again, warring with a different shadow.
The rarity of Michael’s cancer made him feel even more isolated. “I remember going to work and just kind of pretending everything was okay,” he said. “Kind of like seeing yourself on one side of the fence and thinking everyone else is on the other.”
Loneliness was difficult, but asking for help was the worst. He was the one others turned to, always willing to put their concerns above his. Now, when he was in the position of needing support, it felt selfish to place so much focus inward. It was also difficult learning to say no. He didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
“I believe I went through a body and mind transformation. I truly believe we are all here to help each other, and I want to give to others in any way I can to help them.”
Luckily, Candace was there to be Michael’s cheerleader and guide. She insisted he make himself a priority, and her love and patience, he said, helped him navigate the most difficult days. When he got overwhelmed, she reminded him to take it slow, stay in the present, and most important, ask for help.
That advice changed everything. Candace’s involvement in Unity brought them into the path of a community. This new network of caring friends and family pitched in to help the family, bringing the peace of a shared burden.
His strength was tested when, a decade into his treatment, Candace lost her life to breast cancer.
“She was my soul mate,” Michael said. As he struggled to lift himself out of his despair, he realized it was again a matter of taking each day separately, reaching out, and not allowing himself to be sidelined by grief. His community circled around him, offering support.
After 16 years, Michael eventually received a healing gift from a stranger in the form of a bone marrow match. Not only did it offer him a lifeline, Michael suddenly found himself in the midst of a spiritual awakening. “God turned the lights back on in my life,” he said.
Michael was “elated beyond belief” to meet his donor, a young man from Nazareth, Israel, in a phone meeting that was facilitated by a third party. Then his support network expanded even further when he started volunteering. “I believe I went through a body and mind transformation. I truly believe we are all here to help each other, and I want to give to others in any way I can to help them.”
“It all comes together with patience, faith, finding your own strength and confidence, and trusting in the higher power.”
Now Michael spends his days giving back, spreading his optimism, faith, and warrior spirit in the fight against cancer. Volunteerism gives him joy and purpose. No longer silent, Michael now loves to share the details of his treatment. He feels his experiences can give other patients hope, which fulfills him.
Michael now serves as a patient advocate at the hospital that treated him, sharing his story with incoming staff and new patients. As a peer connect for the organization that found his donor, he facilitates conference calls on topics helpful to survivors. Eventually he’ll be assigned to a fellow patient to mentor and guide. He’s pitching in to help paint a community mural.
Michael is making even more plans and recently made contact with someone in the breast cancer community in the hope of reaching out in Candace’s memory. It’s in the reaching out that the healing happens, and not just for him.
“It all comes together with patience, faith, finding your own strength and confidence, and trusting in the higher power,” he said. “I want to continue to encourage patients to live strong like I am, and take action and always have hope.”