Sorority Honors Sister, Raises Funds for Cancer

In memory of a Delta Zeta sister, the Northeastern University sorority raised funds for Mass General’s Caring For A Cure program.

In memory of their sister, Michaela McLaughlin, the Delta Zeta sorority at Northeastern University raised money for Caring For A Cure, a nurse-led Massachusetts General Hospital program that lifted Michaela’s spirits when she was sick.

Michaela was the epitome of grace. She had a deep understanding of what mattered in life.

Michaela was diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer in January 2017. She underwent treatment at Mass General, including surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. During that time, Michaela left college and moved back in with her family in New Hampshire.

After a year of treatment, Michaela returned to Northeastern. She completed a semester, but then the cancer came back aggressively, and Michaela was often an inpatient at Mass General — where she became close with many of the nurses before her death in February 2019.

“I wish it was a happy ending for our family,” says Iris, Michaela’s mother. “But her care was incredible,” she says, holding back tears. “Michaela had an amazing team of providers, and they collaborated and guided us every step of the way. They were always available, accessible and compassionate.”

Caring For A Cure

Since its inception in 2011, Caring For A Cure, a nonprofit organization founded by nurses in Adult Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant at Mass General, has raised more than $1 million. The program fills empty fridges, bridges gaps in rent, and gives patients an emotional boost with celebrations of patients’ last days of treatment, birthdays, anniversaries and babies.

Michaela enjoyed the football party, surrounded by those she loved: from bottom left, clockwise are her mother, Iris; boyfriend, Julian Fricks; father, Michael; her sister Kara’s fiancé, Bryce Stocks; and Kara herself.
Michaela enjoyed the football party, surrounded by those she loved: from bottom left, clockwise are her mother, Iris; boyfriend, Julian Fricks; father, Michael; her sister Kara’s fiancé, Bryce Stocks; and Kara herself.

The Caring For A Cure nurses knew Michaela and her family spent many Sundays at Gillette Stadium cheering on the New England Patriots.

When they learned Michaela would be hospitalized for the 2019 AFC Championship game (New England vs. the Kansas City Chiefs), they wanted to do something to make the game special so they surprised her with a playoff-watching party in one of the family lounges. They had bedecked the room with football decorations and set up a large-screen television.

The gesture meant so much to Michaela and the family, remembers Iris. That day, Michaela was very sick. She couldn’t eat. During the game she took breaks to rest in her hospital room. But she appreciated the effort of the nurses to go above-and-beyond for her, Iris says.

“Caring For A Cure tries to provide a little bit of brightness for patients and their families,” says Rebecca Loh, RN, BSN, OCN. Ms. Loh saw Michaela’s strength as she fought cancer and how she put others’ feelings and comfort before her own.

The organization helps nurses, too. “It also feels good for us to have something to give patients when they are having a hard time,” Ms. Loh explains.

A Good Friend

Michaela juggled a sorority leadership position, cancer treatments, schoolwork and membership in a women’s engineering group. Yet, despite her busy schedule, she was well known for being a good listener, says Kate Secrest, past president of Delta Zeta.

Read about Caring For A Cure:
Enriching Lives
Providing Emotional Boosts

“Michaela was the epitome of grace. She was so put-together in a way that not a lot of college students are — she had such a deep understanding of what mattered in life,” Kate adds.

After Michaela’s death, her sorority sisters wanted to honor Michaela’s life. The sorority joined Mass General’s BeCause community, a group that fundraises by organizing and participating in events, social gatherings and online campaigns. They decided they would fundraise for Mass General’s Caring For A Cure because they knew of Michaela’s respect and appreciation for the nurses in that organization.

Kate sent emails to her sorority sisters, their families and other Northeastern sorority and fraternity members to encourage donations. Delta Zeta leadership created a template for social media fundraising, which the sisters and Delta Zeta alumni used to send out an electronic communication asking for a donation and to get their family and friends excited about the campaign. The format also allowed them to collect donations electronically.

Within two weeks, the sorority had raised $8,000, surpassing their fundraising goal. Kate says they were pleased with what they had pulled together to accomplish.

Michaela’s Legacy

The McLaughlin family was touched by the efforts of the Delta Zeta sisters. “When you lose someone you love, it’s so devastating,” Iris says. “We just thought their fundraising efforts were amazing. They are keeping Michaela’s memory alive.”

Michaela had a gift to be a light when she had such a terrible disease.

The night before her death, Michaela, her mother and older sister, Kara McLaughlin, 27, were listening to music on an iPhone in her hospital room. Michaela had memorized the lyrics to a new Zac Brown Band song. They were laughing and singing.

“Michaela had a gift to be a light when she had such a terrible disease,” Kara says.

To make a donation visit Caring For A Cure’s fundraising page.