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Young cancer victim’s fight fuels Madawaska student’s coast-to-coast run

MADAWASKA, Maine — Inspired by a local 5-month-old who lost her fight against cancer three years ago, Madawaska High School graduate and college junior Aspen Cote is raising money to run across America this summer with the 4K for Cancer.

Briar Rose Albert is draped in all the different types of beads which she earned through Beads of Courage. Every bead is a different color that represents a treatment or a procedure. In 6 weeks, she had accumulated several hundred beads. (Courtesy of Megan Lizotte)

The run is a program of the Ulman Foundation, a Baltimore-based organization that works with young adults and their families affected by cancer. Cote became involved with the 4K for Cancer three years ago, when little Briar Rose Albert received a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  

“As part of a close-knit community, she was not fighting her battle alone. However, at the time, I felt there was nothing I could do to help,” Cote said.

Briar Rose, the daughter of Van Buren District Secondary School English teacher Kristin and Valley Fuel Stop Manager Nick Albert, was diagnosed on Feb. 11, 2016. She was less than four months old. Six weeks later, she died.

Cote said after Briar Rose passed away, she made a vow to do “anything and everything” she could to financially and emotionally support those fighting cancer.

“During the time we were at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for those six weeks following her diagnosis, when she underwent drastic and extensive measures to combat her illness, my sister suggested the creation of Briar’s Brave Fight Facebook page in order that our family and friends may be updated with information about what was happening to her on a daily basis,” said Kristin Albert. “I agreed because my thought and worry was that I wouldn’t be able to constantly be on the phone explaining what we were going through.”

Before she knew it, Albert said people from the community started following Briar Rose’s story. Not long after that, people from around the world began to reach out to the Albert family in support, “rallying around our family with prayers and financial donations.”

People from the United Kingdom and Australia were among the 6,000 following the journey with the Alberts. At one point someone made a GoFundMe page for the family to help with medical bills, hotel expenses, food and other necessities, and within those grueling six weeks, the family received more than $25,000 in donations.

“Aspen and other people like her, who were touched by the insurmountable obstacles that families like ours had to undergo financially and emotionally as a result of being affected by cancer, realized that they wanted to help,” Albert said. “I know firsthand what it like to receive financial aid from funds raised by people like Aspen who have been impacted by the gravity of a situation that puts a family under enormous strain in more ways than one.”  

“The fact that Aspen still remembers Briar’s battle with cancer even three years later and still sees her as the inspiration to go out and support families who are presently dealing with these obstacles is so special and profound to me,” she said. “It shows me that my daughter’s short life had value and purpose and that some positivity, and light can come out of something that was dark and ugly from the cancer standpoint of view.”

“Although money for cancer research will always be a need, the fact that Aspen’s efforts will support families directly during their fight is important and significant,” she said. “Providing financial aid to these families during a time when the pressures are at an all time high, helps to reassure them that they have the support of people like Aspen, community support, to fall back on.”

The Ulman Foundation works with families of young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer. They offer resources to cancer patients and their families to help with issues like social isolation, fertility preservation, financial need, treatment housing, exercise programs like Cancer to 5K, and scholarships.

Cote is raising money through a donation page to run from San Francisco to Boston and has hit nearly 60 percent of her goal. 

“To be a positive difference and a beacon of hope in the lives of those who are most in need is one of the greatest gifts we are given as humans, and I intend on sharing this gift with all those I meet over the course of my journey this summer,” Cote said.

Albert said she feels blessed to know that Briar Rose’s story is still continues to have meaning.

“I’m glad to know, as Briar Rose’s mother, that something positive and fruitful came out of something so difficult and that my daughter’s life clearly had purpose, which was to inspire others to aid those in need, among other things,” she said. “It means that her life wasn’t for nothing.”

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