|This story has been corrected.|
Michele Mendoza feels like her life’s mission is to help others. She raised twin girls, worked as a hairdresser, volunteers at school fundraisers and spends her spare time helping friends. And she has continued to juggle all of these activities while battling breast cancer for the past 14 years.
Mendoza was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30, when her daughters, Brittany and Brooke, were only 4 years old. She underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, followed by aggressive chemotherapy treatments that have landed her in the hospital for extended stays on several occasions. At one point during the treatments, she weighed less than 100 pounds.
Yet despite her failing health, Mendoza continued to volunteer, even after doctors told her the disease had metastasized to her bones and liver, and she was told in February she had only four months to a year to live. Just last month, while on morphine for pain relief, Mendoza helped with decorations for HOOPLA, the annual scholarship fundraiser for La Pietra-Hawaii School for Girls.
FRIENDS OF MICHELE FUNDRAISER
When: 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday
Where: Kahala Hotel & Resort
To donate: Contributions to the Michele Mendoza Fund can be made online, at First Hawaiian Bank or by mail to the Fraser Family, 500 Lunalilo Home Road, Suite 22-M, Honolulu, HI 96825
With her medical bills mounting and her twins graduating from the school in May and looking ahead to college, Mendoza’s friends and family members are hosting a fundraiser for her Saturday at the Kahala Hotel & Resort. Entertainment will be provided by Barry Flanagan of Hapa, Shari Lynn, Taimane and Kelly Villaverde.
"I was embarrassed and ashamed when I found out about the event," Mendoza said. "I’m normally the one helping people. … I don’t ask for help."
Mendoza hopes her daughters will be able to receive a solid education and that her family can keep their Hawaii Kai townhouse despite their recent challenges. Her husband, Denny, an elevator mechanic and a musician, has been out of work for two years, but the Mendozas have so far managed to remain in their home and pay for Michele’s health insurance, which covers some of her medical expenses.
"I’ve worked bald as a bartender, hairdresser and worked for the state to help keep a roof over our head," she said. But her recent frail health means she can no longer work, and Mendoza spends about four to five days a week at the doctor’s office undergoing chemotherapy or getting shots to boost her blood cell counts or to just check in.
"It’s taken over my life. It’s kind of invaded me. But, I’ll do whatever it takes," she said.
Being an outdoorsy person, Mendoza says she misses swimming, stand-up paddling and hiking. "Now all I can do is pray," she said. "I want to live so badly. I want to be that miracle."
MENDOZA serves as the La Pietra Parent Faculty Association president and also was a volleyball team mom, organized volunteer efforts for fundraisers and events, made breakfast for students on exam days and chauffeured kids to sporting events.
"There was always two or three of us parents in the parking lot planning for the next event. We called ourselves the ‘parking lot gang,’" Mendoza said.
"My life has been centered around my kids. Now they are graduating and going off to college. They are the ones who keep me going, so it will be hard."
Mendoza can always be counted on to help, said Annie Landrum, one of Michele’s close friends. "Michele is always thinking of others before she thinks of herself. She is a genuine, loving person — an amazing woman. She’s definitely a giver, not a taker."
Supporters have already contributed more than $18,000 over a three-week period via a Friends of Michele website set up to collect donations on her behalf. The money will be used to defray her medical and living expenses, said Laurie Callies, one of the organizers of Saturday’s event.
"In spite of her illness, Michele remains strong in character, bold and tenacious against adversity, rich in humor and gracious in her appreciation for those who have made a difference in her life," Callies said. "She believes that giving back and helping others is what adds to the richness of life. It’s a lesson she has taught all of us who have been graced by her presence in our lives.
"We simply had to lend a helping hand to the one person who usually was the one reaching out to help others. And as for Michele, I think she now understands just how much she is loved and appreciated — something that up until now she was unable to comprehend."
» The Friends of Michele Fundraiser for Michele Mendoza is from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Kahala Hotel & Resort. Information accompanying this article Sunday had said the event will be held on another day.