There’s more to the story: A deep and powerful connection

 In Family Stories, Family Story, Our Mission

Family Reach has two main goals – help families fighting cancer navigate debilitating financial barriers and put solutions in place to ensure they don’t worry about the basics, like keeping a roof over their family’s heads. One is a short-term and immediate need, like throwing someone a life raft as they’re drowning in the middle of a vast ocean. The other creates long-term systemic change and allow families to focus on getting to the other side of cancer

Between the Family Reach staff, boards and volunteers we have small armies directing each effort. Each army has a hero that stands out in the crowd.

Striving for change

cooking live

Merrigan family at Cooking Live Boston 2016

Nicole Ackerman, our Family Relations Manager, is in the trenches working with hundreds of families dealing with the harsh day-to-day reality of cancer. She knows when they need immediate, tangible assistance and when they just need someone to talk to, to make sure their story is heard and their loved one is not forgotten. Ask any Family Reach family and they will tell you – Nicole’s grace, compassion and devotion to our mission is often the only light they have on their darkest days. She’s been called an “angel on this earth.” None of us can imagine Family Reach without her.

Peter Merrigan, member of our Board of Directors, has been pushing me since the day I met him to dig deeper and do more to change a broken system. As he watched and learned, he saw far too many families losing their homes, leaving them out in the cold with their chances of beating cancer drastically ripped out of reach. He went from being an observant bystander to a fearless activist determined to solve this issue for families with cancer. Peter is recruiting and organizing a powerful group of people on the local and national stage to develop mortgage loan modification programs that will prohibit any family with cancer from losing the one place they need to heal, their home.

Family ties

Merrigan kids circa 1992

There is more to this story. What makes these two so special isn’t just their determination and efficacy, it’s that they are brother and sister. In parallel they work tirelessly on short- and long-term solutions for families fighting cancer, and they do so in their sister Maribeth’s memory. Nicole and Peter are empathic, determined and passionate about the Family Reach mission because they lived it. Their beloved 24-year-old sister was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer just as her young adult life was taking off with a career at Wells Fargo in San Francisco. Her future was bright, but in an instant her diagnosis forced her to head home to Boston and move back in with her parents so she could afford and access care.

Cancer affects the entire family. Nicole left college to care for her sister and, in just one year, the family depleted their savings, had to sell their home and watched Maribeth succumb to cancer despite all of their efforts.  

Nicole and Peter have devoted their lives to making a difference for families just like theirs. Their siblings, Jennifer and Tim, are also strong supporters and have devoted their time and energy into the mission of Family Reach. Together, they are honoring Maribeth’s memory and have a profound effect on the cancer community. With Maribeth at the core of every gesture, every victory and every dream to change a very broken system, I have no doubt they will succeed. Together.

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