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In Memory of Cassie Firenze (August 2019)

Today’s post is coming directly from me — for those who don’t know much about Runway for Recovery, I am the founder and executive director of the organization. I started it as a way to remember and honor my mother who died of breast cancer in 2001. 

I am writing today from my own personal experience. This past spring, an incredible human came into the Runway office. It was one of those spring days filled with the hope of a new season and the promise of new beginnings — for both me personally and for the organization. 

Cassie came with Emily — two friends who had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time a couple of years ago. Two friends who were set to model in October for the first time. Two friends who are also mothers and very much began and ended our visit talking about their children. And two friends whose breast cancer paths diverged — one into remission and one into a stage 4, terminal diagnosis. 

What I remember about that spring day is laughing. Cassie was hilarious from the second I met her. And she was 100% devoted to helping her son Nico in these final moments of her life. Determined to walk in October, she did everything we ask of a Runway model — she shared with us her story, she fundraised, she invited friends and family to the event, she offered up auction items, she got excited to be on the runway to spread hope, joy and beauty. •••And then in early summer, during that week when school is ending, it became clear that October may not come for her. So she same back to the Runway office, and together with our devoted and incredible film crew, and her best friend Emily, we all made her son Nico a movie. A movie that covered all of the things that only mothers know, and one that will hopefully give him the strength that she so selflessly instilled in him from the moment he was born. It was a long day in the Runway office that afternoon. But it was necessary for us to capture this Mom’s words for her and for her family. 

With her family around her, Cassie died peacefully this past week. She died on her own terms and very much with a plan for how her family would go on without her. 

My friends have asked me how I do it — surround myself in the pain and sadness of this disease day in and day out. How do I relive my mother’s own story almost weekly? Well, I need to do something. I have felt for 18 years a huge void and yet at the same time a companion who has forever been by my side as I have walked through life without a mother. I am very aware of the fact that my mother and father give me 80% of my strength and then their friends and family have given me the last 20%. So I know that there can be a way for us to encircle and love the families who are left without their mom/dad/caregiver. Cassie found a lot of peace knowing that Runway was built to look after her family. And we hope that Angelo and Nico are willing to walk in her honor in October.

We can find the hope and the joy in this life if we look. We can also create it. Smother your children and your spouse with a hug right now. Send your friend a note. Come cheer on and dance with the models and families in Boston this fall. Look for ways to love people who have died and keep them alive in your hearts—everyday. They will certainly come along with you. And if nothing else, call your mother and tell her that you love her, knowing that that is really the only thing many of us wish we could do.

Thank you Cassie for believing in Runway and in that October date—and thank you for touching my life, even though it was just for a moment, in the hilarious and joyful way that you did.