A 20-year volunteer in the fight against cancer crosses her final finish line

Missy’s spirit will be right there with us at this year’s Bike to Beat Cancer.

One year ago, I shared the story of one of our longtime Bike to Beat Cancer volunteers, Missy Farfsing, and her battle with a rare cancer of the spine.

At the start of 2022, Missy’s cancer took a turn, becoming more aggressive and causing her a great deal of pain.

Cancer is never beautiful, never fair. On Jan. 22, 2022, Missy passed away, crossing the finish line in her battle with cancer.

I wish Missy’s story had a different ending. The kind of ending where Missy victoriously celebrates her 25-year remission by crossing the finish line at Bike to Beat Cancer.

While this is not the case for Missy, her legacy will live on as we continue her fight with her same determination and strength for the other Missys of this world through Bike to Beat Cancer.

Missy was a beloved member of the Bike to Beat Cancer family for more than a decade. Since 2014, she had volunteered to coordinate more than 500 volunteers across two days. Each year, she made sure we had enough volunteers to support the ride and that each of those volunteers had a great experience. She was at Bike to Beat Cancer before the first light of dawn, and she would not leave until the last rider crossed the finish line — rain or shine.

In March 2020, Missy began to notice weakness in her right leg and reduced range of motion when flexing her right foot, as well as back and hip pain. While increasing her walking during the start of the pandemic, Missy noticed increased difficulty. After a couple of months, she went to physical therapy to see if that would help fix the issue. After a month of physical therapy and receiving minimal results, her doctor ordered a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and a small mass was discovered on her spinal cord at the conus.

In August 2020, the team at Norton Neuroscience Institute performed a T12-L1 laminectomy surgery to try to remove the 1 centimeter mass from Missy’s spine. The surgery went well, and most of the mass was removed and sent to pathology. Missy was diagnosed with grade 4 astrocytoma of the spinal cord, H3 K27M-mutant glioma.

Missy began a first treatment course of chemotherapy and radiation at Norton Cancer Institute in September 2020.

Month after month, Missy fought cancer her way — with grit, determination, humor and the same strength she had used to participate in Tough Mudder runs (one of her former hobbies). She kept on fighting despite nausea, fatigue, hives and the many other side effects that come with chemo and radiation.

“On the nights when I have to take Temodar, I cup the pill in my left hand and then clasp my right hand over my left. I close my eyes and I feel it resting against my skin. That little pill represents so much. So much pain. So much anger. So much desperation. So much hope. It’s the hope I focus on when I hold it in my hand,” she said. “I hold it there willing it to continue to fight off cancer.”

Mixed in with her treatment, Missy persevered through intense physical therapy sessions to try to regain as much mobility in her foot as possible. On top of all of this, Missy had to take extra precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic and stayed dedicated to her job at Norton Healthcare as director of provider development. Most important, she was a loving wife and a proud mom to two girls.

“Being their mom during this has filled me with so many emotions. I think often about who they are now and the people they will become. I want to be there for all of it. I fight to be there for all of it. I question if I have instilled in them all they will need if I am not here for all of it. I cry over their beauty and uniqueness. Their feisty spirits that are so different yet equally strong. My heart literally aches when I think about it,” Missy said.

Throughout the spring and summer of 2021, Missy continued to support Bike to Beat Cancer. She coordinated volunteers for the 2021 event and served as captain for Team Missy. She hosted a fundraising ride at CycleBar in May, where she raised over $1,200. Missy talked about how much more important Bike to Beat Cancer was to her because of her experience.

“I know I am fortunate. Others are not. I have spent over 20 years of my life raising money for cancer programs, and didn’t have a true sense of how badly those services were needed until now,” Missy said. “I am thankful for the work I have done in the past, but have quickly realized there’s so much more that needs to happen and so many people who need help.”

Missy was at Bike to Beat Cancer last year from early morning until late in the day, managing volunteers and cheering on each of the riders, including her own team. Team Missy was one of the top teams in 2021, raising more than $8,100 to support the work of Norton Cancer Institute.

Shortly after Bike to Beat Cancer, Missy marked the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis.

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“The thing I remember most about this day last year was how unprepared we were. Even if I had the slightest inclination that something was amiss, I was not prepared for the harsh reality of cancer. Looking back on this day was hard, but I have had harder ones since then,” Missy said. “The reality didn’t fully set in until I was away from the doctors and the business aspect of establishing a plan to fight a cancer that is terminal.

“We are fighting for more time. Period. Not a cure. There isn’t one. I will never be free of this cancer. It doesn’t work that way. That is the most devastating thing I remember from last year, and it’s been a hard reality to face.”

Missy continued her treatment in the fall of 2021, facing each round of chemo and radiation with strength. She also explored clinical trials with her care team at the Norton Cancer Institute to try to find what she wanted most — time.

“Major events are hard. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, etc. all have a bit of a dark cloud over them even when I don’t want them to. Each thing I participate in feels bittersweet, and I mourn a future that I may not have. This leads to planning in ways that I never wanted to plan and having conversations I am not ready to have,” she said.

To help prepare, Missy kept a notebook of important things she wanted to tell her girls and husband — songs she loved and why, notes about what was currently happening in their lives and what she wanted them to know about major milestones.

“I have two ‘about Mom’ books for Cara and Ramsey to tell them all about my crazy life. I have another book that captures all the ‘business’ stuff related to things like passwords and bank accounts and what type of funeral you want, or don’t,” she said. “It’s difficult to think about what you would tell your kids when they graduate high school when one of them is only in the sixth grade. It’s difficult to think about words of wisdom for their possible marriages when they have never experienced love.

“I am doing well right now and tell myself I will be here to meet my grandchildren, but the reality is, none of us are guaranteed that. We live like we are, until we are not.”

Losing a treasured member of our Bike to Beat Cancer family is not easy, but I have no doubt that Missy’s spirit will be right there with us at this year’s Bike to Beat Cancer as we cheer on the last rider as they cross the finish line.

Anne Cannon is director of events/donor relations for the Norton Healthcare Foundation and Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation.

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