Shelly Kozicki lost her husband, Craig, to mesothelioma in April, 2009. Since her husband’s diagnosis, Shelly had been on a mission to raise awareness and funding for mesothelioma research. Through her work she has met many other families affected by mesothelioma who keep her motivated and focused in her mission. Aside from her events, you can also be sure to find Shelly attending the annual International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma.
For 11 years, I was the caretaker for my husband, Craig, as he battled mesothelioma – a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. His diagnosis was grim, and we faced the unique challenges of fighting a disease with little research, funding and treatment options. Like others facing difficult diagnoses, the prognosis left me and my family feeling hopeless and searching for a cure. But through all the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, I learned that helping others was often the best medicine.
We traveled to New York from St. Louis for a clinical trial and were surrounded by talented doctors and an outpouring of support back home from our family and friends. But as time passed, I became painfully aware that despite the efforts of our amazing medical team, there were just simply not enough research dollars going toward finding a cure. So, nine years into Craig’s fight, I decided to take action.
With the goal of raising $100,000, I started working towards funding the first Craig Kozicki Research Grant in 2007 through the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. My efforts, in honor of my husband, went toward finding a cure and raising awareness for this orphan disease. My ambitions started small with a simple letter writing campaign, and slowly grew into larger events like Quartermania. With the support of family and friends, we reached our $100,000 goal in only one year. Although my husband lost his battle with cancer in 2009, my fight continues as I am on my third research grant and will not stop my efforts until this disease is eradicated.
I have learned that fund-raising is more than just supporting a cause; it is also, in itself, a form of therapy. When I dealt with Craig’s illness day in and day out, I was constantly surrounded by the negative consequences and tribulations faced when watching someone you love battle a disease. But, when I started fund-raising, it allowed me to incorporate the disease into my life in a positive way, bringing me hope, support and a sense of empowerment. For the first time since his diagnosis, I felt some control and that my actions and efforts could make a difference for my husband and others.
Although I have given a lot with my fund-raising efforts over the years, I have received so much in return. This cause has grown exponentially, and the support from organizations like the Meso Foundation and other families dealing with this illness has turned a solitary fight into a devoted community. During the pain of dealing with my husband’s passing, this community gave me support and the opportunity to redirect my grief into positive action. Now, I fight in Craig’s memory and am optimistic that, one day, our work will no longer be needed and a cure will be found.
I hope my story inspires others to fund-raise and realize the breadth of its impact — not only in its benefits to raise awareness and funds for a cause, but also in its ability to give you a voice when you feel mute, to give you hope when you feel hopeless and to give you power, at a time when you feel powerless. I wish I had known earlier in my husband’s illness the comfort and satisfaction standing up to this disease would bring me. I didn’t expect that my campaign to help others would, in the end, help me.
The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation is the leading organization dedicated to eradicating mesothelioma as a life-ending cancer by funding peer-reviewed mesothelioma research, providing patient support services and education, and advocating Congress for increased federal funding for research. The Meso Foundation was founded in 2000 and since then has independently funded over $7.1 million in peer-reviewed mesothelioma research. More information is available at www.curemeso.org.