Woman with terminal breast cancer shares spirit of gratitude, giving back

Woman with terminal breast cancer has gratitude, gives back

A woman from western Wisconsin with terminal breast cancer is sharing a message about gratitude and giving back this Thanksgiving.

Michelle Eral of New Richmond was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer a year and a half ago, which is a type of cancer that is difficult to treat.

Her doctors have now told her she may only have weeks left to live.

Her family has spent the last year ‘loving every moment,’ a message they now want to share with others.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Reporter Alex Jokich first met the family at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk, hosted by the American Cancer Society, at the Mall of America in October.

The Erals were the top fundraisers at the event.

They also had the biggest group in attendance, with around 100 people wearing ‘Love Every Moment’ t-shirts made in honor of Michelle.

The family told Jokich that the breast cancer journey has been heartbreakingly difficult but they are determined to help Michelle live out her final days in a positive way.

“It was really important to me to be able to dream and to look forward to what’s next in my life,” Michelle Eral said. “So, at first, it was I was paralyzed by that. But then what happened was, I just changed what I was dreaming about.”

Instead of dreaming about tomorrow, like going back to school or advancing her career, the Erals helped Michelle dream for today.

The family made a bucket list.

“This just sucks. It does, right? That’s the reality, but she didn’t let that slow her down,” said Michelle’s husband of 23 years, Joe Eral.

Thanks to family and friends and long-term disability provided by Michelle’s employer, she was able to cross many items off the bucket list over the last year.

That included seeing the musical ‘Hamilton,’ going skydiving in Wisconsin, seeing Garth Brooks in concert, taking a hot air balloon ride, getting re-baptized at her church and taking a family trip to Hawaii, where the Erals were able to go on a helicopter for the first time and Michelle got a tattoo representing each of her three children.

The family said, that while the exciting experiences helped make some amazing memories, there were other smaller things on her bucket list as well that were equally as important, such as getting lunch with a young pen pal named Stella, watching a sunset on Lake Michigan and taking a final motorcycle ride with her husband.

Neighbors also helped the Erals recreate their first date 25 years ago, with a specially prepared dinner at their home.

“Again, it goes back to that word: fortunate. I just find myself extremely fortunate,” Michelle Eral said. 

The family felt it was important to not only help Michelle ‘love every moment,’ but to give back to others.

That included taking part in the Making Strides walk and raising money for the American Cancer Society. 

Michelle’s 21-year-old son Cooper was the one who decided to rally such a large group of family, friends, coworkers, former teammates and fraternity brothers to walk for his mom and raise money for the cause.

They ended up being the top fundraisers at the event, bringing in more than $12,000 for the American Cancer Society (ACS).

ACS said that money goes toward the care of cancer patients and finding a cure for other women faced with Michelle’s diagnosis.

“We’ll be back next year and every year after, so it’s only a number that’s going to continue to grow,” Cooper Eral said. 

Joe Eral said, even while going through something so difficult, they try to brighten the lives of others.

They bring cookies to their nurses and order pizzas for emergency room staff when Michelle has to go to the hospital, along with delivering dozens of donuts to their care teams.

“It’s just the chain of giving. It just really helps to have those random acts of kindness and pay it forward as well,” Joe Eral said.

Cooper Eral added, “I think it’s as simple as that. You don’t know how many moments you have. If it’s not cancer, it could be a car accident, realizing that every moment does matter.”

The Erals said they hope to carry on the ‘love every moment’ message while inspiring others to do the same.

“It would have been really easy to lose faith and lose hope,” Michelle Eral said. “But you just need to take it little by little.”