Amid a month of pink ribbons, feel-good stories and advertisements with smiling cancer patients, it’s easy to forget the millions of lives that are claimed by cancer each year.
And among death’s sickening array of characters, cancer is one of the cruelest.
Doug Alsdorf, professor at The Ohio State University, knows this reality all too well after losing his wife, Laura Behrendt-Alsdorf, to metastatic breast cancer in 2011.
It’s hard to talk about death. Most people avoid talking about death in the public sphere because death can’t be dressed up — not even in pink ribbons.
But Alsdorf will never forget or avoid discussing the bravery with which Laura — his soul mate and mother of his only child — faced death during her experience with breast cancer.
“In the face of pretty much everyone’s No. 1 fear, Laura did not cower,” he said. “She never said, ‘why me.’ She was courageous and resolute.”
It was a long, painful process for Alsdorf to say goodbye to Laura and accept that his life course has been altered on a profound level. But he is moving ahead with new dreams, goals, hobbies and passions — such as joining the fight to end cancer.
At the core of the fight against cancer is an unyielding drive powered by love, loss and hope — an arsenal that’s fortified by science and medicine. Alsdorf and Laura’s brother, Don Behrendt, are feeding that arsenal with the Laura J. Behrendt-Alsdorf Endowment Fund at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. The fund has accumulated $120,000 thus far, and it benefits Dr. Sameek Rowchowdhury, who works on the genetic typing of cancer cells.
Shortly after Laura died, Alsdorf started to find some small comfort in blogging his personal thoughts about Laura, their life together and how he’s been coping without her.
His newfound love of writing is here to stay.
Alsdorf is 50,000 words into a book he plans to publish about Laura and “life, love, death and dating,” the proceeds of which benefit the fund at the James. He’s also working on another nonfiction book and a sci-fi novel.
“Everyone should create. Be a painter, a sculptor; play music,” he said. “I can’t do any of those things very well. But writing I can do. Everybody can write. Everybody has a story.”
He and Laura’s story began at Ohio State in Siebert Hall, where they were living as a resident advisor and graduate student, respectively. Ten years of friendship and romance later, they got married in 2001. Two years later, they welcomed their son, Garrett, into the world.
“She was in love with me and I was in love with her,” Alsdorf said. “Together, we loved Garrett.”
It was on May 17, 2011, that Laura’s story came to an early end at 43 years old.
She stood no chance in her six-year fight with breast cancer, but she won the battle in a different way — by living fully and passionately through it all.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from Ohio State and, with her husband’s encouragement, an MBA from USC. The height of her career was spent at Mattel, a major toy manufacturing company. Laura’s spunky personality and love of the toy industry and automotive racing made her the perfect person to help oversee toy lines within Hot Wheels, Alsdorf said.
She was an avid diver, spoke French and had a great love for traveling. She made a point to keep exploring the world through her final days — her last trip was to Turks and Caicos with her family and friends, just six weeks before she died.
“She did all of that and so much more, all the while knowing that she was going to die young,” Alsdorf said. “She never let cancer define her nor a single day of her life.”
As it is inscribed on her tombstone, “cancer took Laura’s body, but it never touched her spirit.”
Laura’s memory will always be alive in Alsdorf and Garrett — who’s now 13 — and her selfless love continues to inspire them.
“I am so deeply grateful that Laura chose to love me,” Alsdorf said. “Her love now brings me peace.”
The original story was published in The Columbus Dispatch’s 2016 Pink Papers special section.