Purple Community Blog

31 Mar 2017

Chelsea Westra’s Story

These days, it seems as though everyone has a connection to cancer and I’m no different. My husband, Eric, was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma—a rare pediatric bone cancer—in May of 2013. After three years of on and off chemo, surgeries and hospital stays, he passed away in May of 2016 at the age of 29. Just shy of his 30th birthday, his first Father’s Day and our 6-year anniversary.

In a world where everyone has a cancer story, something that makes ours unique is our connection to
Van Andel Institute (VAI). Eric’s oncologist is also a scientist at VAI—Dr. Matt Steensma—because of this connection Eric decided to donate a portion of his tumor to Osteosarcoma research being done at the Institute. That donation was made towards the beginning of his treatment, and to be completely honest, we never really thought of it again during those next three years.

After Eric passed away, I knew I wanted to get involved in raising awareness and funds for Osteosarcoma research, specifically for VAI. Often, it seems, the circumstances in our lives bring about a passion for a cause that otherwise would have gone unexplored. Before Eric got sick, I never knew this cancer existed, and now all I want to do is help people who are currently struggling with this life-changing diagnosis. I have a heart for the patients and caretakers of those living with this disease, and if I could, I would happily quit my job and devote my life to serving those who are following down the path I’ve already taken.

Blessedly, Eric and I did not walk our path alone, and I am not alone in my continued passion for this cause. When Eric was first diagnosed, our friends wanted to help in any way they could. They came up with the idea of a golf outing to help raise money for the cost of our medical bills—we called it Birdies Beat Cancer. After Eric passed they decided to host a second golf outing—Eagles for Eric—this time with the funds going towards our son’s future education costs. Now, the Eagles for Eric team includes me and we are officially partners with VAI’s Purple Community. We recently hosted a Funny Guys Fight Cancer event and will be having the 3rd annual Eagles for Eric golf outing on September 15.

Purple Community is an outlet for us to stay passionate, stay involved and stay motivated. There is a comfort in knowing that Eric’s cells continue to be used in research at the Institute and the Eagles for Eric team will continue to help fund Osteosarcoma research until a cure is found.

When we met Dr. Steensma at the initial diagnosis, Eric asked how long he would be his doctor for. While I don’t remember the exact response, it was something along the lines of, “I’m going to be a part of your life forever.” So it seems incredibly fitting and wonderfully poetic that because of the research being done at VAI, he is keeping his promise as they continue their journey together in this way, even after Eric is gone.

– Chelsea Westra