Michele Conley (1962 to 2014): A Braveheart Against Cancer
I’m sure that when the movie “Brave” was in theaters, some of us might have been forgiven if we thought it was a film about the life of Michele Conley.
If ever there was a person who met the recurring challenges—two and then at last three battles with cancer—that life brought to her with bravery and courage, then it was Conley. In some ways, these battles for life became opportunities to help others who had faced and continue to face the same fights. She fought back by knowing the enemy, by embracing her life, and by founding Living in Pink in 2003, her own independent and non-profit organization which supports research to further the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. It was a year-round effort, with a highlight each year being the annual Living in Pink Luncheon and Boutique.
In 2013, Conley saw a son off to college, traveled to Europe and continued to participate in running races. She founded Living in Pink after watching her own mother battle breast cancer. She then battled the disease herself, twice.
When we talked to her two years ago about her life and activities, you never heard a whine or the word suffering—rather she talked about the cram course in information about the disease she undertook, and the fact that the second time around, she had opted for radical surgery, a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.
Faced with cancer, Conley went out and did things and told us that “I’ve always been that way—I have my mother as an example for that.” Living in Pink is pro-active, too, sponsoring the awarding of grants and supporting innovative research. The mission statement for the organizations states: “Living in Pink was created to find a cure for breast cancer so that the next generation of women will not have to endure the emotional and physical pain of breast cancer and treatment.”
She said last year, “We celebrate women that are living, surviving and thriving.”
She fought the great battle against cancer for one last time. This time, the result was not the same. Michele Conley passed away Nov. 28.
We remember her as a friend here at The Georgetowner, where we were strong supporters of Living in Pink and Michele. Her daughter Brooke worked at the newspaper.
What we remember is her sense of pragmatic optimism. She was, it seemed, always realistic about the dangers posed by cancer, but she was also actively hopeful that progress could be made. She burned up energy right in front of you. She had something else too: grace and graciousness, a sense of humor, blonde beauty and style. When you met her, you didn’t forget her.
Living in Pink and the struggle against cancer added to her natural vibrancy. In some ways, there was a sense of urgency in everything she did, echoing playwright William Saroyan’s call to “in the time of your life, live.”
“Cancer,” she said then, “is not for the faint of heart.”
Funeral arrangements are being coordinated by Joseph Gawler's Sons, 5130 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. The funeral mass for Michele Conley will be celebrated 10 a.m., Friday, Dec. 5, Church of the Little Flower, 5607 Massachusetts Ave., Bethesda, Md.