It wasn’t the merriest of Christmases in 2008 for Erin Frany Blair, Esq., ’01. On December 23, she would be diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Our entire family was changed forever,” Erin says. “I have three sisters and two brothers. They helped me physically and mentally fight this battle. My parents said, ‘we all have cancer now.’ It was the truth.”
Erin, who was 25 at the time she received her diagnosis, says she was terrified of the unknown. Fearful, but always faithful.
Erin says the Holy Names community was a huge support to her and her family during her battle. That message, along with early prevention and detection, was one she and her sisters brought to the Holy Names campus as part of an educational assembly on Friday, October 14 in support of Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Blair’s youngest sister Emily, ’11, was an AHN student when Blair was diagnosed.
“AHN was my home away from home,” Emily says. “I needed a safe and welcoming place to escape to. Being such a young girl, I realize now how much I really needed to be there and in that type of environment.”
“Growing up Catholic, you put so much trust in God. When your faith is challenged like that, you cannot help but question ‘why is this happening?’ But today, I can see why. Erin would have never started a non-profit to help others if we didn’t firsthand truly understand what it is like to financially struggle while fighting for your life. She has helped so many families because of this.”
That non-profit organization, Erin’s Love Bugs, Inc., gives hope to cancer patients by providing financial assistance during treatment. Its vision is to allow cancer patients to focus on living and recovery rather than their finances.
Cancer is still impacting the lives of Erin and her loved ones, but in a different way. “Once you’re in it, you’re never really out,” says Grace, ’99, the oldest of the four girls. “Except now, it’s more about prevention. I am a board member for Erin’s organization, I regularly make monetary and time donations to cancer prevention fundraisers in honor of Erin’s survival. I have also started my own preventative screening for breast and other cancers, as well as determining my risk factors with genetic testing. Cancer will always be a part of my health journey now.”
All four sisters, Erin, Emily, Grace, and Leigh ’06, echoed a similar refrain regarding what advice they’d give young girls: reach out to family, friends, and mentors for help. They say these situations are meant to make you stronger and live your life to the fullest.
When Erin was first diagnosed, Leigh, who was in college at the time, was contemplating taking a semester off to spend more time with her family. “I reached out to a former mentor at AHN. As a student, we built a wonderful foundation for a long-term relationship, personally and professionally. I discussed my plan with her, and I asked for her thoughts. As she sympathized with me, I could tell by her tone of voice that she was distraught by my decision. She was fearful that I would not reregister and finish my degree. She told me that through education, you can reach your full potential, and she didn’t want me to throw that away. She was right! At that point in time, I had no intention of reregistering for the next semester. She saw me at one of my weakest moments and gave me the support to move through difficult times. Throughout our conversations, she was there supporting me, which gave me the strength to push through this difficult time. If she is reading this today, I am forever grateful for you.”
Erin says cancer has brought darkness to her life, but also light. “I have seen the goodness of God through those around me,” Erin says. “My story may have had a very different ending if not for them. My teams of doctors, family, and friends, many of whom are Holy Names girls, were my support system. Because of the kindness that was shown to me, I found a new path.”
She survived many surgeries, eight weeks of chemotherapy, and 34 radiation treatments. She continues a form of chemotherapy still today. Cancer prevention and treatment will always be a major part of her life.
As it will be for her family. Erin says, “I am so grateful to my sisters. I will never be able to repay their dedication to me.”
Grace adds, “I’m not sure I ever told her (Erin) how proud I am of her, and how she handled this hard time in her life. I am honored to be part of her journey through cancer.”
Emily reminds Erin she is a survivor. “Look at how much more life is ahead of you and look at how many lives you’ve helped. Not only financially, but by even showing up like she did at Holy Names. Being a figure of hope and happiness because that’s what she is.”
Leigh says even at her weakest moments, Erin proved her strength. “You not only showed your strength, but you taught me how to be strong, and for that, I am forever grateful for you. You are a wonderful mother, daughter, friend, and sister. I love you, always.”
Erin Frany Blair, Esq. is married to her husband of ten years, Brett. They have two children: a son who will one day attend CBA, and a daughter who will one day attend Holy Names.
Grace Valente, who works a web applications programmer with SUNY Systems Administration, and her husband Dan have two sons.
Leigh Frany Mainella works for State Government and is happily married with a beautiful son.
Emily Frany works in Executive Liability Insurance, is on the board for the Capital Region Advertising Federation (CRAF) and is the Chief Marketing Officer for Erin’s Love Bugs. She also has a dog named Presley who is “the best little fluff ball.”