By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Friends lovingly remember Tatiana Alissa Ingraham 10 years after her death at age 18 from leukemia on the eve of her Hillsborough High School graduation.
They recall the effervescent and smiling girl who lit up the world around her, according to remembrances.
To a person, they all hail the glow, friendliness and joy of Tatiana, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the beginning of her junior year and passed away about a month before graduation in 2005.
As a tangible act of love, several of her closest friends from high school are fighting back against cancer in the only way they can — by raising money for research to find a cure for the disease.
They have formed two teams that will participate in Light the Night walks to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. One team will walk in Rockville, Maryland, on Oct. 10 and the other Oct. 17 in Princeton. On the one- to two-mile route, walkers will carry illuminated red, white or gold lanterns to signify if they are a supporter, survivor or walking in memory of someone, respectively.
“Tatiana was a wonderful friend, a beautiful dancer and an even better person,” said Lisa Berry, who is helping organize the memorial walk. On graduation day, she said, “We celebrated our accomplishments knowing that a piece of us was missing on that day.”
Friends remember the tragic days of their senior year, when Tatiana succumbed about a month before graduation day. At the diploma ceremony, several friends sought and gained permission to pin yellow roses to their graduation gowns as a sign to Tatiana. In the language of flowers, yellow stands for friendship, Ms. Berry said.
“We celebrated our accomplishments knowing that a piece of us was missing on that day,” said Ms. Berry. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when her parents accepted her diploma.”
The classmates have set a fund-raising goal of $10,000 to mark the 10-year anniversary, leading to the team’s name of “Perfect 10.”
They are seeking others to donate or join the walks, said Lisa Berry, one of Tatiana’s closest classmates. She is working with “co-captains” Samantha Ecker (nee Goldberg) and Melissa Maya, who were also classmates.
Last week, the team had a happy hour fundraiser in Washington, D.C., and raised $351 to push them just shy of $5,000, said Ms. Berry.
The memorial walk was organized by Ms. Berry, who reached out electronically this winter to friends and classmates.
She and others had known Tatiana since third grade, she said. Their relationship distanced as middle schoolers, but they all reconnected in high school, she said.
“She was just a very warm person who cared about other people,” said Ms. Berry. She recalled a day in her senior year when Tatiana sent her an email apologizing profusely for having to go for treatment and thus miss helping Ms. Berry in a charity fundraising event.
“She was a bright light in all of our lives,” said Ms. Berry, who Lisa who works at the Prevent Cancer Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Classmate Allison Singer, who now works in the publishing field in New York City, will walk in Princeton. She recalled Tatiana from classes and field trips in elementary school.
“She was very sweet, always smiling,” she said. “You don’t meet many people as friendly as she was.”
Samantha Goldberg Ecker, a speech language pathologist who lives in Pompton Lakes, was in youth dance classes with Tatiana.
“I think Tatiana was somebody who is worth remembering,” said Ms. Ecker. “She was always so sweet, so full of life, she’s easy to remember even after 10 years.”
Tatiana’s health was a bracing slap of reality to teenagers like her, said Ms. Singer.
“You’re in the middle of worrying about the prom, what to wear to school and something like this happens and it reminds you what’s important,” she said.
Her friends were special to Tatiana, too. In the high school yearbook, under her senior portrait there are initials of friends and then the words “You mean the world to me. To all who cared and prayed for me when I got sick, thank you from the bottom of my heart. All my love to my parents, doctors and HHS staff.”
To support the effort, the link to Perfect’s New Jersey team page is http://pages.lightthenight.org/nj/Prince15/Perfect10.
By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor