On Sunday, with the death of Mandi Schwartz ’11, we learned of another devastating loss for our community. Mandi had struggled with acute myeloid leukemia for over two years, and many of us at this newspaper had followed the ups — and, increasingly, the downs — of her condition. Sunday’s news of her loss puts a bitter end to months of hoping and praying that she might return to us. Mixed with our sorrow is the anguish that, as much as she fought, and as much as her family, friends, teammates and classmates fought with her, we could not save her in the end.
It was a fight that would grow from the personal struggle of a 20-year-old Yale women’s hockey forward to one that encompassed the campus and, eventually, two countries.
The example of Mandi’s poise, strength and quiet dignity remains as inspiring today as it was in her studies, her play and throughout her fight against illness. Her example stirred countless others to action: members of our community who stepped in to lend a hand when cancer struck, and thousands outside of it, emboldened by the spirit of one of Yale’s true bright lights. One did not have to know Mandi personally to feel personally affected by her battle. A stranger to many of us, she changed our lives.
Thanks to Mandi and her supporters, 1,615 joined the National Marrow Donor Program’s “Be The Match” Registry through drives held at Yale over the past two years. Two of those Yalies, Information Technology Services employee Jim Owen and Lexy Adams ’13, ended up matches for patients, donated their cells, and may have helped save lives. On Nov. 12, 2010, the “White Out for Mandi” event at Ingalls Rink drew a record crowd at the women’s hockey game, raising more than $15,000 for her cause. As her fight became national news, expectant mothers donated their cord blood.
Thanks to Mandi, we spoke out, donated money, flooded OB/GYNs with calls, and encouraged everyone we knew to do so as well. Her illness mobilized our campus in a way that few other causes have.
Even with Mandi gone, we cannot lose our desire to help. On April 21, the annual bone marrow drive — officially named after Mandi last week — will be held in Commons. We can honor her by showing up, by having our cheeks swabbed, by being glad of the chance to help. Even knowing that all we do may not succeed, that we may still lose those for whom we fight the hardest, we cannot be deterred.
But Mandi was more than a symbol. She was also a friend, a daughter, a sister and a fiancée. Growing up in Canada, Mandi loved cooking for (and cleaning up after) her little brothers. Years later, when her brother Jaden returned home from the World Junior Hockey Championships with a silver medal and a broken ankle, Mandi, in the midst of her illness, traveled to the airport to greet him. He hung his medal around her neck.
Surrounded by friends, family and her fiancé, Mandi died Sunday morning at her home in Saskatchewan. She was a long way from Yale. But at the end of her life, we hope she knew how lasting an impact she had on ours.
As much as we tried to do for her, she did so much more for us: what began as an effort to help one person ended up redefining the spirit of fellowship on our campus and sparking a nationwide movement. We will never forget her.