Thirty-three-year-old Hayley Del Rossi learned she had breast cancer just hours before the curtain was set to rise for the opening night of the Medford Panther Players spring musical.
She and her husband, Michael Del Rossi, both teachers, had been working with students from Medford’s Haines and Memorial middle schools since November on the production of Legally Blonde, Jr. and this was the night everyone had been waiting for.
The show had to go on.
But when the lights went up and the applause was over, the couple broke the news to the cast of middle schoolers and their families.
“We told them what was happening, and they immediately asked: ‘what can we do to help,’” Michael said. “Everyone was so supportive.”
What happened next made even Michael cry.
On the closing night of the show, cast members took the stage and made an emotional appeal to the audience for donations to MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, where Hayley is being treated.
They sold pink bracelets inscribed with the words “No One Fights Alone,” and within minutes collected $1,200 in honor of Hayley.
“I’m not a warm and fuzzy guy and I broke down in tears seeing them do that,” said Michael, who has been directing the Medford Panther Players for 12 years. “My friend had to pass me a box of tissues.”
Hayley said she was overwhelmed by the kindness displayed that night and shown to her over the past several months as she underwent chemotherapy in advance of surgery.
As part of her cancer journey, Hayley has also undergone genetic testing through the William G. Rohrer Cancer Genetics Program at Cooper and discovered she has the BRCA 2 gene, a significant risk factor for breast cancer.
Her brother also underwent testing and learned that he too is a carrier of the gene, which he could pass along to his daughter.
“If I didn’t get cancer, he would never know he had the gene,” said Hayley.
Hayley and Michael, who also have a 6-year-old daughter, praised the care they have received at MD Anderson Cooper.
“It has been fantastic,” Michael said. “Everyone we meet is just so caring and compassionate.”
And to the Medford Panther Players, Michael said there are no words to describe how he feels about what they have done for him and his family.
‘They are an amazing bunch of kids,” Michael said. “I am proud to be their director.”