Leslie's Story

September 13, 1967 - December 14, 1999

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LeslieIt 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.

Leslie's formative 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 Eastern Europe. 

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 intensity. 

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 parent's basement. 

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.

During the 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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