Memoir chronicles Roanoke College graduate's battle with cancer
MaDee Boxler had a bucket list.
First, she wanted to graduate from Roanoke College with a double major in Psychology and Criminal Justice. She crossed that accomplishment off her list in December 2009.
Second, she wanted to travel to New York City and see a Broadway play, which she also did.
Finally, Boxler wanted to share her story. Now, with the help of her family and writer Kimberly Fowler, Boxler's memoir, "Dancing in the Rain," recently landed on bookshelves.
Boxler was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma during the spring semester of her sophomore year at Roanoke. As she struggled with the disease, she started documenting her battle with cancer from her hospital bed. Through her journals, diary entries and private letters, she began to piece together a powerful, emotional tale about life as a young woman with cancer. After her death in February 2010, with her story left unfinished, her mother and sister vowed that they would help her cross this final item off of her bucket list.
Boxler's family kept this promise. They enlisted the help of Kimberly Fowler, a freelance writer and teacher. Fowler used the work Boxler had already done to complete this powerful memoir, and much of the story is told from Boxler's perspective.
"When MaDee wrote one word, I gave her a paragraph...often a page. When she went on for a page or more in her journals, I lent a hand and wrote a chapter for her," said Fowler.
She dedicated more than a year to telling Boxler's heartbreaking story in a way that captured the incredible hope that defined the young woman.
After Fowler's own son was diagnosed with cancer, a few years before Boxler, Fowler began to realize that the experiences of a young person with cancer are complex and unique, as are the experiences of their family members.
Fowler's time spent in the oncology wards of hospitals with her son and other young people made her realize that she could give a voice to Boxler and help share her story.
Fowler wanted to use Boxler's experience to shed light on the daunting number of young people that are diagnosed with cancer every day. Fowler said she hopes the story will raise awareness and produce
additional resources and research for children facing pediatric cancer.
"Dancing in the Rain" strikes the delicate balance between somber and inspirational and serves as a testament to Boxler's tenacious, loving and courageous spirit. It's also a lesson in humility, perspective and the importance of hope.
"MaDee's story encourages us to live fully in the present, wholly accountable to the notion of living our best life and one that encourages the greater good," Fowler said.
Boxler left a lasting impact on all who knew her at Roanoke College. She was a member of the Chi Omega sorority, worked as basketball coach Page Moir's student manager for three seasons and received the Jessica Swanson Spirit Award. Swanson graduated from Roanoke and earned an MBA from Virginia Tech, while dealing with a muscular disease that paralyzed her.
Boxler's legacy at Roanoke continues through the college's contributions to The MaDee Project, a nonprofit organization founded by Boxler's family in her memory. The organization works to help families in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County, Va., who have a child battling pediatric cancer.
Roanoke College, along with several Greek organizations on campus, including Chi Omega, hosted a lacrosse game last spring to raise funds for The MaDee Project.
Fowler and Boxler's family and friends hope that through The MaDee Project and now, "Dancing in the Rain", they can continue to foster the change, awareness, and growth that they believe is necessary to raise money for research toward a cure for pediatric cancer.
"Dancing in the Rain" is available at the Roanoke College bookstore and at other stores in Virginia.