Today’s blog post was written by Mandy McGlone, Nikki’s best friend and Sam’s Fans’ Associate Director.
Nikki and I are best friends from High School. To say that we have been through a lot together is an understatement. We’ve supported each other through new jobs and new houses. We’ve supported each other through bad boyfriends and bad 80’s hair. Nikki was the Matron of Honor in my wedding and has been my cheerleader, my travel partner and my vault for essentially all of my adult life. Nikki and Dan were married when we were in our early 20’s and Samantha was the first baby, toddler, and young person I was around for any length of time. Sam was a funny, vivacious, energetic little girl with big brown eyes, a sweet empathetic heart and an infectious smile. I used to hang out with she and Nikki over breakfast or lunch and I would babysit her from time to time so Dan and Nikki could go out. I loved our time together – we would play with her stuffed animals, color, go to the park, play outside, and talk – a lot! Sam definitely had the gift of gab and I was one of her biggest fans.
Nothing could have prepared me for attempting to support Nikki through Sam’s diagnosis and subsequent medical and emotional journey. When Sam was sick, I tried to support Nikki as best as I could. I called her almost every day, I traveled to the hospitals and their homes in Cincinnati and Columbus for lunches and visits, I sent cards and packages, and I learned more medical terms than I ever thought I would learn. It was really hard to watch Nikki go through something so horrible. I was her sounding board when she was frustrated and her confidante when she was angry. I was there to celebrate their small medical victories and to laugh when we could. Through all of that, I never fully knew if what I was doing was supporting Nikki in a way that was helpful, meaningful or important to her. I just did what I knew how to do, and what felt right to me at the time.
On October 15, 2009, Nikki asked me if I would come to Nationwide Children’s hospital to say goodbye to Sam. When I walked into the hospital room, Nikki and I hugged, sobbed, and just stood there holding hands. Nikki asked me, “What am I going to do?” to which I responded, “I don’t know. But whatever you are going to do, we will do it together.” Then I sat for a while and talked to Sam as she slept so peacefully in that hospital room. Most importantly that day, I promised Sam that I would take good care of her mom. I believe that she heard me and that she took comfort in my words. At the time, I didn’t know what all of this really meant, but I know now.
Several years ago, Nikki said to me, “I think I want to start a non-profit in Sam’s memory.” At that point in time, I had worked in the non-profit world for many years, putting my Masters Degree in Non-Profit Management to good use. Was this it? Was this what I was waiting for – the opportunity to help Nikki in a way that I knew was important and meaningful to her, in a way that honored Samantha’s memory and helped other kids? With an emphatic “Yes!” Nikki and I started working. We applied for our articles of incorporation, decided on a logo and a website and with the help of several other people, we officially launched Sam’s Fans in 2015.
Today, I am the Associate Director of Sam’s Fans. While Nikki is out in the community representing Sam’s Fans, arranging and attending meetings, I get to help Nikki run the day-to-day operations of the work that we do. I get to help implement Sam’s Fans 3-year strategic plan. I get to be a strategic thought partner with Nikki to help determine what (and how) we do our work. I get to travel Ohio’s children’s hospitals and witness the magic that Sam’s Fans helps to facilitate for these kids and families – families that are just like Nikki’s. I continue to be one of Sam’s biggest fans, and I am so honored that I get to work along side my best friend every day, helping Nikki with this dream that has allowed her to turn her grief into this beautiful thing that is Sam’s Fans.