Son fights leukemia in father’s name

Teen who helps dad wants to make difference

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Ralph Guglielmi was given a 15 percent chance of survival when he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005.

“I didn’t hear 15 percent,” said the man who is now president of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Rocky Mountain Chapter. “I heard I had an 85 percent chance of dying.”

Eight years later, the Highlands Ranch man is in full remission and couldn’t be prouder of his 17-year-old son Michael, who is running for this year’s LLS Man of the Year — one of the organization’s big four fundraisers — in honor of his father, who himself won the fundraising award, bringing in $35,000 for LLS in 2007.

“This young man has been taking care of me for a long time,” Ralph said. “This is just an extension of what he has been doing. It’s absolutely unbelievable.”

Michael’s father went through six rounds of chemotherapy and an experimental stem cell transplant, and spent five months at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle while things were at their worst. He credits LLS for being alive today.

“Mentally, I was worse off than the cancer itself,” said Ralph, who is also diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. “I obsessed on it. God forbid I got a bruise or a bloody nose or a headache or a fever, it was constantly, ‘my cancer’s back, my cancer’s back.’”

For Michael, who was just 9 when his dad was diagnosed, it took a while before he understood what was happening.

“He hid it really well at first. It wasn’t until his hair started falling out that I knew he was sick,” Michael said. “When he went to the Hutch I didn’t know if he was coming back. It was a good-bye that could’ve been good-bye for good. That was the real deal.”

When Ralph returned home from Seattle, Michael moved from Colorado Springs — where he had been living with his mother — to live with his dad in Highlands Ranch.

“Your kids aren’t supposed to take care of you until you are in your 80s, but I was a wreck,” Ralph said. “I just can’t say enough about this young man.”

Now the Highlands Ranch High School junior is trying to take care of others who are fighting the same fight his dad did.

“It was too much to see as a kid,” Michael said. “There’s other stories where the dad didn’t make it or the mom didn’t make it. It’s horrible. I just want to make a difference. I don’t care about winning.

“I want other kids to do what I’m doing too. Anyone can raise money.”

One of the fundraisers that Michael has lined up is a pig roast from 2-6:30 p.m. May 5 at Pizza Republica, 5375 Landmark Place in Greenwood Village. The event is an all-you-can-eat roast costing $50 per adult and $20 per child. All proceeds go to benefit Michael’s campaign. For questions, call 720-489-2030.

To learn more about Michael’s campaign or make a donation, please visit www.mwoy.org/pages/rm/denver13/michaelguglielmi. For more information on the Rocky Mountain Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, visit www.lls.org/rm.