Michael Philip Petrella
Michael Philip Petrella (October 27, 1998 – March 19, 2019) is remembered as a compassionate, resilient, determined, remarkable, and influential, young adult. Whose smile could light up any room. Known for his enormous heart, humor, unique laugh and listening ear. Michael exemplified what it meant to live life in the moment. Those who knew Michael even for just a moment were grateful to have known him.
Michael was born in Toronto, Ontario. However grew up in Montreal, Quebec after the age of two. Enthusiastic and curious at a very young age, Michael always loved to make others laugh. Michael cared about people in the purest form. He loved everyone for who they were wishing the best for them, without deception and without asking for anything in return. His loyalty to family and friends was beyond remarkable.
Michael had so much goodness, and the capacity to bring happiness to others. Along with such a bright future ahead of him, so he thought.
On July 18, 2017, Michael was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic B-cell Philadelphia like Leukemia. A mouthful of diagnosis, nobody saw coming. He had been experiencing very painful backaches, along with a lingering cold. What initiated the emergency room visit was higher than normal temperature and a stern insistence from his local pharmacist. She took one look at him and instantly knew that no over the counter drugs can help him at that moment.
Michael tried to absorb the diagnoses unfolding before him. Fear and loneliness set in at warp speed, especially the fact his parents and younger brother were out of town. A twenty-four hour car ride to be exact. Learning of his diagnosis over the phone was something his parents will never forget. Their distraught son, with his trembling voice begging them to come home as quickly as humanly possible. Their long worried journey home began immediately.
Michael bravely stood up in the storm like a true warrior throughout his blood cancer journey. Fighting with all his might enduring his pin cushioned body, drawing a road map to how much intrusion he endured. Every pinhole told a story, from blood drawn or pain medication administered. Not to mention his pick-line, the gateway to numerous transfusions and treatments.
Simultaneously feeling blessed and terrified, Michael received news of a lifesaving Christmas gift of a stem cell transplant. After months of extensive search for the perfect match, the possibility finally came to fruition from a selfless anonymous umbilical cord blood donor. Forever grateful to that family who gave Michael a priceless gift of extra borrowed time.
News of relapse unfortunately, three months later confirmed the unpredictability of blood cancer. Not ready nor willing to surrender Michael wanted to explore further options.
His hematologist-oncologist advised of the latest protocol available called Car-T immunotherapy. Michael quickly insisted he would be the twenty-first patient on this protocol. Proclaiming that no matter the uncertainty of his future, he would graciously be a pioneer making the pathway for patient access to Car-T therapies in Canada.
Gratefulness and fear forever at the forefront, especially when embarking into the unknown territory of his latest treatment option. No matter how prepared one is, nobody can truly be prepared for the turbulent journey.
In preparation for his transplant, Michael needed surgery to insert an ommaya reservoir placed under his scalp. This was urgently needed in order to administer chemotherapy to his cerebrospinal fluid. Another unforeseeable hurdle after a lumbar puncture mishap affecting his spine and mobility. Michael learned to walk again after intensive daily physical therapy at eighteen years old. Nevertheless, he was beyond thrilled that he finally could, no matter his dependency on a cane and leg brace. He was a force to be reckoned with, embracing life and deeply committed to making a difference.
While trying to navigate his full-time role as a blood cancer patient, Michael’s pursuit of a career in psychology began. He turned his months of isolation, into an opportunity to begin his studies. His goal was to help the young warriors as he called them. He strongly believed that being both patient and therapist, would wholeheartedly guide them through their difficult journey. Making the grades just did not cut it, experience and knowing first hand was most needed, he proclaimed. Even though his in hospital studies, were quickly put on the back burner, his mission and vision continued to be center stage.
Once again, news of a final relapse unleashed the floodgates of emotions. His medical team had exhausted every option available and the clock of borrowed time was rapidly ticking. Michael faced his toughest decisions yet, especially for a twenty year old to make. Difficult yet necessary, Michael initiated hospital bedside conversations with his parents and younger brother. Michael expressed his apologies, along with reassuring them he had accepted his unimaginable fate. Outlining every detail of his departure to the unknown and the reasons for wanting it that way. A conversation no parent ready to have, yet grateful it was possible.
Michael had more than his fair share of reasons to be angry and shut others out. Instead, he mustered up all his energy into inspiring them in true warrior fashion. Encouraging and requesting promises be made, of continuing to be his voice spreading awareness, along with fundraising efforts making his vision of living in a world without blood cancers into a reality.
Michael’s gentle heart bared a hundred plus scars, yet he found the strength to reserve some quiet time with family, friends and medical staff to say his final and most precious farewells, filled with gratitude, advice and his love. Leaving no stone unturned and no words left unsaid.
Reinstating he did whatever he could, on March 19, 2019 after a nineteen month battle for his life, Michael peacefully hung up his boxing gloves and gained his angel wings, surrounded by his loving family.
Our family wishes to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the health-care professionals, and hospice staff at both Maisonneuve-Rosemont and Saint-Justine hospital for their professionalism, compassion, dedication, and kindness. Always treating Michael and our family with the outmost care. As Michael voiced personally himself prior to his passing, they will forever be his heroes wearing stethoscopes, not capes.
We equally wish to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Leukemia and Lymphoma society of Canada for welcoming our family wholeheartedly. For their compassion, comfort, knowledge and support we so desperately needed during our darkest moments. Eternally grateful to Alyssa Brandone (Senior Volunteer Communications Coordinator) for igniting the spark Michael needed to get inspired to form his team called Michael’s Minions. Michael’s motto that year was “Be your own hero”. This year marks five years participating in Light the Night walk. Making it our third year without Michael physically present. However, his spirit remains present as we continue to be his voice, spreading awareness and our ongoing fundraising efforts. Making his vision of living in a world without blood cancer into a reality someday.
We are extremely humbled by Michael’s nomination for this years Remembered hero. I sincerely hope my words have done him justice.
How could I as his mom truly capture the depths of a person whom I brought into this world, to later on in life witness helplessly as he fought to stay alive as a young adult? He had so much more life to live with promise, and accomplishments, which were yet to be achieved.
We raise children with the hope and conviction we would watch them outgrow us and not the other way around. How could a world without Michael remain the same?
Clearly, it cannot, for we are so much richer because he was in it. His kindness was not an act; it was a reflection of his wonderful soul. There is no denying that we miss his physical presence, laughter, hugs and kisses. My love for him has no expiration date and grows stronger with time. How could someone inspire and love others within his short lifetime, as he did? I proudly proclaim that I am at top of that gratitude list, along with countless others. He has taught me so much more than I could have ever taught him. Snapshots of his ever-present loving smile and the warmth, depth and intelligence behind it, will forever remain etched in our hearts and minds. We will recall the sheer pleasure of his company, how good he made us feel, how free we were to be ourselves around him, and how undeniably will be missed.
Most of all we will forever honor his memory by sharing how he lived and not how he died.
May our Remembered hero’s legacy, continue to inspire countless.
A very proud Mom of a leukemia warrior