Colin Delaney was once just a happy-go-lucky freshman at Springfield Township High School in Wyndmoor. That came to a shocking end in February of 2014 when he suddenly became very sick.
Colin Delaney was once just a typical kid. The happy-go-lucky freshman at Springfield Township High School in Wyndmoor liked to do magical card tricks, could quote episodes of the wacky TV show, “Family Guy,” and hoped eventually to be a film major at Temple University.
That easy-going normality came to a shocking end in February of 2014 when he suddenly became very sick, and his frightened parents rushed him to the emergency department at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
“We were immediately whisked to a back room,” said his mother, Melissa. “Soon after we were told that our son has cancer. After that, everything was a blur. Not much was making sense to us.”
After that first night at CHOP, Colin went on to fight for four years, which required spending more than 350 nights in the hospital and an almost equal number of doctor’s appointments and medical procedures. He had to fight two different types of cancer, Burkitt leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia. The intensity of his treatment – which included a stem cell transplant – destroyed a portion of Colin’s immune system.
Eventually, the effects of all his treatments and infections caused his lungs to fail, and on April 19, 2018, Colin asked to be removed from the ventilator. He passed away a few hours later.
“What I recall from that first night at CHOP was the doctor saying to Colin, 'You are the most important person to us, and we will do everything we can to get you better,” Melissa said. “It was that night that we started calling Colin an MIP [most important person]… To our family, being The MIP meant looking at Colin as a whole person, not just a diagnosis of cancer.”
That meant keeping up his daily routine, and normalizing his life as much as possible - despite the fact that he could no longer attend school because his treatments had so compromised his immune system.
“More importantly, we wanted to equip him with skills to be able to understand that while cancer hugely impacted his life, he could still maintain his dignity and control over his situation,” Melissa said. “This took us on quests to find quality mental health care and support. Skills such as biofeedback, therapy with a chronic illness specialist, psychiatric support for anti-depressants, cognitive restructuring (positive thinking), music therapy and art therapy were powerful tools that helped him cope with what was happening to him.”
But, she said, such services were often a struggle to find – and were also costly.
“We always said to Colin, 'You can’t control that you got cancer, but you can certainly control how you handle it,' Melissa said. “We worked hard to give him 'days off from cancer,' where he could just be a teen, and remember what he was fighting so hard for.
“After all, a teen with cancer is still just a teen,” she continued. “Colin is so very missed, his strength and determination, kindness and sense of humor. Colin was and still is, without a doubt, truly a most important person.”
Colin did graduate from Springfield High School; his brother, Will, now 18, accepted his diploma for him. And he also received his coveted acceptance letter from Temple University – one week after he died.
Melissa, who was the child care director at Christ Lutheran Church in Chestnut Hill from 1998 to 2013, has now turned the pain of losing her son into a fierce determination to help others by establishing the MIP (Most Important Person) Foundation. Her mission is to promote mental health support and social services for adolescents and young adults fighting cancer while increasing awareness about the effects of pediatric cancer. She opened her doors in August of 2018, and moved the operation into a previously unoccupied building at 800 E. Willow Grove Ave. in September of last year.
“Each adolescent and young adult is the most important person in their cancer journey,” Melissa said.
The two rooms on the first floor of her foundation are filled with mental health and wellness tools, and each patient gets an “MIP kit bag” – individually tailored for their interests and needs. So far, she’s distributed 150 of these kits at CHOP, St. Christopher's Hospital for Children and Nemours Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE.
“MIP has been able to accomplish incredible things in just a few years,” said board member and volunteer graphic designer Marie Horchler. “It’s truly amazing to see the impact it is having in the lives of these teens, and the ripple effects that often happen as a result of the programming that has been developed.”
When Colin was first diagnosed with cancer, Melissa was the owner of Wyndmoor’s Giggles & Tickles Toybrary, a toy lending library which she had opened Oct. 12, 2013 – an event covered by the Local on Nov. 21, 2013.
Through the help of volunteers, Melissa was able to keep the Toybrary open for some time while she focused on Colin’s medical care. But she eventually had to close the business in July of 2015.
As for her new venture, local fundraisers also help raise awareness, in addition to money. The 5-K Turkey Trot in Fort Washington, a sold-out Bingo event in the spring and a Fall Kickball Tournament have become very popular annual events.
And Melissa is also quick to thank her husband, Dave Doliner, who she says has been critical to her success.
“He has been a constant supporter of my vision,” she said. “He has been willing to sacrifice me not having an income so I could volunteer full-time. Pretty amazing!”
For more information, visit themipfoundation.org. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org