It’s almost impossible to avoid Karlie Kloss these days. There she is on top of a cab, crouched catlike in her indigo stretchy jeans; extolling the virtues of L’Oréal mascara; running in a sports bra, wearing a watch, on a Times Square Jumbotron; throwing a football to her father on Instagram; and posing in front of a building on her first day of school in NYC. Portraits of an effortlessly beautiful 23-year-old, graced with an enviable combination of good genes and ambition. Ted Koehler could have written the song he wrote in 1932 for her: “She’s got the world on a string, sitting on a rainbow.”
Abby Shapiro did too. But one day last spring, when my colleague Andrew Rothschild approached me, I knew from the expression on his face that he was going to tell me something awful. People have come to know me as an advocate for cancer research, and rarely a week goes by when I’m not approached by someone desperate for information about some iteration of this cruel disease. We slipped into one of the few places offering a modicum of privacy in the vast, open spaces of our offices. “My cousin Abby is sick,” he began, and the story grew increasingly bleak by the second. Abby Shapiro. Sixteen years old. Washington, D.C. Funny, bright, outgoing. A breaststroke swimmer, she was being recruited by colleges like Tufts and Colby. She returned home from a college tour with a pain in her knee, and was later diagnosed with osteosarcoma. And then what felt like a final punch in the gut: an only child.
In a sea of horrific stories, Abby’s stood out. I thought about my two daughters. I thought about Abby’s parents. My own emotional nerve endings, damaged by cancer, were reactivated.
I asked what I could do, knowing full well that my ability to affect the outcome was uncertain. I offered to reach out to Abby’s mom Trudy and help track down any clinical trials through researchers at Stand Up To Cancer. But Andrew had something else in mind: “Can you think of someone, anyone, who might be able to send her a message, cheer her up?” Abby was in the hospital and wasn’t doing well. She needed something to smile about.