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A Story of Survival and Giving Back

The Blog I Never Wanted to Write

By: Alex Umbach, VP of Cocktails & Caregivers

It’s 2014. Melinda & Eric Almeroth are basking in the glow of new parenthood with baby boy, Noah. Then Eric begins to experience some strange symptoms. One appointment leads to another, and he’s diagnosed with a very intense form of malignant brain cancer. They fight it and begin surgeries, chemo, radiation, and countless doctor visits. Grade 4. The worst of the worst. Spoiler alert: THEY BEAT IT. 

I say “they” because if you’re here, you gotta know by now how much pride we take in our caregivers. Melinda helped Eric every step of the way. She beat cancer, too.

Today, if you glance at Melinda’s Facebook page, you’ll see her bright smiling face, her funny and doting husband, Eric, and their two beautiful sons. You’ll see Blake’s beautiful bubbly baby smiles. You’ll see Noah just celebrated his ninth birthday with a Christmas tree decorated by their Elf on a Shelf. 

But if you scroll deeper, you’ll find friends asking for prayers and support for the Almeroth family. Those strange symptoms from 2014? They’ve returned. That cancer? It’s back. ROUND TWO. It’s the blog I never thought I’d write.

Back in the Beginning

It was July of 2015 and about two years before I’d officially joined the Cocktails & Chemo (before the name change!) team as Vice President. Amanda was hosting a Stay Glam event at a salon in my town, and I offered to take pictures of the caregivers getting pampered. When I made the offer to Amanda, I had no idea what was ahead of me. I had no idea my dad was about to be diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. I had no idea I was about to watch my mom become a caregiver overnight. I had no idea I’d lose my dad just 14 months later. Amanda called me that morning and said, “This is so hard for you; please don’t feel like you need to come.” But my dad’s cancer wasn’t real to me yet. My mom is not yet really a caregiver. Like I was still in a dream watching it from above. Camera in hand, I went. 

My life was forever changed when Melinda Almeroth walked into that salon in Batavia, Illinois.

Melinda and Amanda met for the first time in 2015.

“Oh, My God. Is Amanda Here?!?!”

As Melinda entered the salon with her mother-in-law, I welcomed them. “Oh my God. I’m so nervous!” she says while fanning herself. Through a huge smile and maybe even some tears, she tucks her hair behind her ears while talking quickly. “Hi, I’m Melinda. Oh, My God. Is Amanda here?!?!” I chuckled because, of course, she was there; it was her event! But these people had never seen her in person. She was just a face on the internet. Not an actual human.

What I watched transpire over the next several hours was like people meeting their all-time favorite superstar. Like the young Chicago fan getting a fist bump from Michael Jordan. Like the two people who secured Taylor tickets and got to see her perform. Like a….okay, you get the picture. Amanda was nothing short of a celebrity to Melinda and these caregivers. With her blog, she had put a name, a face, and a story to the role of caregiver. She had redefined for every woman in this salon what it meant to be someone who loved so hard and lost so deeply. I am an outsider, but I feel instantly connected to these caregivers. “These people are my mom.”, I think. My mom is a caregiver. It starts to sink in.

Melinda and Eric detailed their story in a CaringBridge journal for years, and just after attending the Stay Glam event, she posted a blog about it. Most poignantly, how she felt meeting other women whose husbands SURVIVED Glioblastoma, she writes…

“As I was getting my hair washed, I looked up and saw a man with a scar identical to Eric’s sitting next to his wife. I couldn’t even enjoy my shampoo because all I could think about was how to talk to her and introduce myself. I finally stumbled across the words, “Is this your husband? She said, “yes.” I replied, “He has the same scar as my husband .”This woman grabbed me and wrapped her arms around me, giving me the biggest hug I’d ever had. The tears flowed and didn’t stop. As she was hugging me, I felt a little bit of my heartache go away. As if she took that burden for me for just a second. It was truly life-changing. I proceeded to talk to her and her husband and found out that he is a 13-year survivor of brain cancer! 13 years!!!!!!!! The tears came again, but I told her these were tears of hope. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Eric that amazing news.” 

And survival stories like that helped the Almeroth’s power on when it seemed impossible. And in 2018, she stopped writing the blog. Cancer gone. No more updates to share. It’s the BEST reason to stop writing a CaringBridge journal.

Volunteering at a C&C fundraising event Keli Novack, Melinda Almeroth and Alex Umbach.

Time Marches On

Over the next several years, I officially joined the team, and so did Melinda. You see what this foundation does for people and think, “there’s no way I can’t be a part of that!” She began running our Chicago events hosting luncheons, and creating a great network of support in the area.

Melinda leading a group of Chicago caregivers for support and to give back in their community!

She wanted to pay it forward to other caregivers in the shoes she remembered all too well. Her husband Eric SURVIVED Glioblastoma, passing the ultimate FIVE-YEAR CANCER-FREE mark, which was a massive relief for us all. They even added another baby to their family in 2021! Melinda was the poster child for miracles. Her story was the inspiration others needed.

“CANCER RECURRENCE”

That’s the title of Melinda’s first CaringBridge post in November 2022 after having yet to make a post in almost four years. It breaks my heart that it’s true. Melinda and Eric’s story has always been one of such hope and one that defied the odds. And hopefully, it still will. History repeats itself, right? If the cancer is back, cancer can go away like it did last time. Treatment has started, and we all cross our fingers and toes that he can beat this round with the same success he did last time. 

Eric & Melinda Almeroth at the Cocktails & Chemo gala in 2020.

If you’ve been to a Cocktails & Caregivers event in the last seven years, you’ve probably met Melinda. If you’ve attended a Chicago event, she planned it for you. Her ultimate goal was to make sure other caregivers never felt alone. Now, it’s our turn to ensure she knows she’s not alone. In partnership with Royal Neighbors of America, we will donate up to $2,000 to the Almeroth family to help cover the cost of childcare for Noah and Blake while Melinda and Eric focus on his treatment. 

IF WE CAN RAISE $1,000 THIS WEEK, ROYAL NEIGHBORS OF AMERICA WILL MATCH IT! Let’s make 2023 a bright start for the Almeroth family.

To Melinda, Eric, Noah & Blake- we love you guys. We’re in your corner—every step of the way.

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