It was August 17th, 1991 and the
Semonian family was celebrating a 25th Wedding Anniversary as well as mom's 50th and dad's
60th birthday. Leslie, in her usual vivacious style, had spent weeks planning, creating a
superb invitation and arranging the perfect event. The party went off without a hitch
except for one thing - her secret, two weeks old, now had to be shared. Leslie had
recently been diagnosed with CANCER, but with all the planning for her parents' party it
was simply a major inconvenience to be dealt with later.
What had begun as
severe leg pain in the preceding months turned out to be a tumor in her fibula known as
Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer which predominately appears in children ages 10-20.
Immediately following the wonderful celebration, Leslie underwent surgery to remove a
portion of her fibula bone and began intensive chemotherapy.
Leslie Before Cancer
Born as the first of
three children to Armenian-American parents in Newton, Massachusetts, Leslie was raised in
a family which stressed tradition and strong cultural values. Her family also encouraged
her to be her own person.
years were idyllic, filled with many friends, successes and few crises. Aside from the
quintessential young female teenager preoccupation with constant socializing, Leslie
distinguished herself in a variety of ways. As a star athlete throughout her youth, Leslie
enjoyed competing in tennis, swimming, softball and skiing, earning many awards and titles
including the Junior Achievement award from Oakley Country Club; she also served as the
captain of her varsity tennis team in high school. Her athletic success helped her develop
a strong sense of teamwork. Although she was a team player, her ability to juggle a
variety of activities would place Leslie in the center of the action.
Upon graduation from
Newton South High School in 1985, she attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst,
School of Business Administration where she earned a bachelor's degree.
She enjoyed her college
years, which were filled with many social activities. Leslie kept herself busy with work
at Brugger's Bagels, socializing at the popular campus watering hole, Barselotti's, and,
of course, studying. Her junior year was spent studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark,
which sparked her interest in travel and history. Her sense of independence was further
developed during the summer before her senior year when she backpacked by herself through
Upon graduation, Leslie
landed employment at MCI, where she worked as an inside sales representative marketing
long distance services. She enjoyed the young, social workplace, but swore she would never
cold call again.
Shortly after her entry
into the workforce, Leslie's family was faced with the devastating news that her mother
had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Leslie, being Leslie, she immediately formed a
large group of people to participate in the Walk for Multiple Sclerosis, in order to raise
money to help find a cure.
Leslie With Cancer
After Leslie's surgery
on her fibula, she was left with a large 18-inch scar on her right leg. Fortunately, due
to advancements in surgery, she retained the ability to walk. Though the ensuing
chemotherapy was grueling, she was optimistic - she had been given a 65% chance of
survival over the next five years. Leslie grew introspective and changed during this
ordeal, and she decided to refine her priorities in life and live with a new
Over the next three
years Leslie was employed as a corporate travel agent for Thomas Cooke Travel, renewing
once again her interest in world travel. During this time, she traveled to Southeast Asia,
Greece and Turkey; she also skied and snowboarded throughout North America. She also
became a columnist and calendar editor at The Improper Bostonian Magazine, where she
created and produced the popular feature column "Woman on the Street."
The scar on her leg
served as a constant reminder of the possibility that her cancer could return. It inspired
her to work in any way possible so others would have the same excellent cancer treatment
she received and could benefit from future cancer research.
In 1994 Leslie, after
being cancer free for two years, volunteered for the Pan-Mass Challenge, a 192-mile bike
ride to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. During her first year of
involvement with the event, she supported the riders by collecting trash at the finish
line in Provincetown. It was at this point that she committed to herself to participate as
a rider the following year.
Shortly after her first
192-mile bike ride, Leslie was re-diagnosed with cancer. The following year, despite
grueling chemotherapy treatments, she rode once again, teaming up with her friend, Chris
McKeown, on a tandem bike. Every year after that, she rode on her own.
The PMC became a
constant in Leslie's life. She met many new friends and doggedly recruited/insisted that
old friends ride and donate. Her involvement in the PMC included everything. She served as
the poster child for a Dana-Farber ad campaign, volunteered during the ride, stuffed
envelopes at headquarters, arranged housing for riders, and rode in the bike-a-thon; she
even created a riding team of her own, called Wicked Women on Wheels. She was also the
only active chemotherapy patient to finish the ride in 1994.
Again, fighting cancer
for the second time hardly slowed her down. Within a week of being re-diagnosed, she
deepened her involvement in her other favorite charity - Santa Claus Anonymous, which
produced the largest annual charity party in the city, the SnowBall. In order to be closer
to the action while receiving treatment, Leslie situated SCA's event headquarters in her
After completing her
year of treatment, Leslie decided to apply to graduate school. In the fall of 1996 she
began working on her MBA at Babson College's Graduate School of Management. While
completing her MBA, Leslie continued her world travels, including a visit to Armenia. She
also participated in study programs in South America and China. Not surprisingly, she was
a very active and involved student. She was elected Director of Community Activities for
the Graduate Student Association, and was creator and publisher of her class's MBA
yearbook, the first hard cover version ever published. As a tribute to her accomplishments
as a student and as the class' social secretary, she was chosen to be listed in the
publication, Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. While at
Babson, she also met the love of her life, a fellow MBA student. After graduation, her
success in publishing the student yearbook paved the way for a contract to produce the
Harvard Business School's MBA yearbook, which she completed the following year.
In September 1998,
Leslie helped found another non-profit organization called Midnight Santa. This group
raises money to sponsor inner-city families by having volunteers, dressed up as Santa's
elves deliver food and gifts to inner-city families on Christmas eve.
With her MBA in hand,
Leslie accepted a job from her tandem bicycling partner in the PMC, to work as financial
controller for ServiSense, an internet start-up. She also earned her real estate license,
traveled to Costa Rica, and continued her charity work.
In January 1999, Leslie
was diagnosed with cancer for a third time. At first, she received radiation to her head
and her shoulder. Unfortunately, the cancer was widespread at this point. In October, 1999
she began chemotherapy, which had little effect on slowing the growth of the cancer, and
her condition continued to worsen.
During the next several
months, as her health continued to decline, Leslie developed a vision for a charity to
carry on her legacy. Even while she was bedridden in the hospital in a morphine-induced
state with a patch over one eye, Leslie convened bedside meetings to convey her ideas and
vision. Assembling a team of friends and relatives, she founded Leslie's Links in
conjunction with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to help raise money for cancer research.
Leslie's Links will serve to link patients, family members and doctors together to help
each other share information, find support and raise money for a cure, thus continuing
Leslie's style of connecting people to benefit others.
eight-and-a-half year period of cancer, until her death on December 14th, 1999, Leslie
never allowed her illness to stand in the way of her goal of helping others. Her passion
for life was boundless, and will continue in the hearts of the many friends and relatives
whom she inspired.
Join Leslie and other patients,
families, friends and doctors to find a cure for Ewing's sarcoma.
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