Brownell student carries on Superwoman Fund’s legacy

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 30, 2019

 Maryam Whelan, pictured with her daughter, Sophia, died from cancer in 2017. When battling cancer, she created the Superwoman Fund at Henry Ford Health System to help women battling cancer alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with the disease.

Maryam Whelan, pictured with her daughter, Sophia, died from cancer in 2017. When battling cancer, she created the Superwoman Fund at Henry Ford Health System to help women battling cancer alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with the disease.

Photo provided

 From left, Joe Curtis, father of Grace Curtis; Mary Claire Curtis, younger sister of Grace Curtis; Grace Curtis; her mom, Lindsay Curtis; and Brian Whelan have remained in touch since Maryam Whelan died of cancer in 2017. Grace Curtis is carrying on the legacy of the Superwoman Fund at Henry Ford Health System, which Maryam Whelan started.

From left, Joe Curtis, father of Grace Curtis; Mary Claire Curtis, younger sister of Grace Curtis; Grace Curtis; her mom, Lindsay Curtis; and Brian Whelan have remained in touch since Maryam Whelan died of cancer in 2017. Grace Curtis is carrying on the legacy of the Superwoman Fund at Henry Ford Health System, which Maryam Whelan started.

Photo provided

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Brownell Middle School student Grace Curtis remembers the first time she met Maryam Whelan.

“We immediately connected,” Curtis recalled. “I loved how she was so caring. She didn’t treat me like a kid. She treated me like a person. She was a very elegant speaker and a really good role model.”

Sadly, Whelan, 40, died from cancer in 2017, leaving behind her husband, Brian Whelan, and young daughter, Sophia.

“I felt terrible for her. I felt terrible for her family,” said Curtis, who became acquainted with Whelan through her aunt and uncle. “I remember being very, very upset. I didn’t really feel like she was gone.”

As Whelan was undergoing cancer treatment, she created the Superwoman Fund at the Henry Ford Health System. The fund “adopts” a patient and provides monetary assistance to help women battling cancer alleviate the financial burdens associated with the disease. Monetary donations are given to patients for groceries, transportation to treatments, utility bills, gasoline cards, day care, clothing, prescriptions and other medical needs.

“Maryam put herself in others’ shoes and realized that a cancer diagnosis would be much harder if you didn’t have resources and a family to support you,” Brian Whelan said in a prepared statement.

When Curtis, who will be in the eighth grade this fall, applied to be a member of the school’s National Junior Honor Society, she knew she would need to do a service project. She chose to honor Whelan by carrying on the work of the Superwoman Fund. Her parents, Joe and Lindsay Curtis, support their daughter’s decision.

“Lindsay and I are super proud of her,” Joe Curtis said of his oldest daughter. “The project did take a lot of work. This is the first service project Grace has been able to do on her own.”

In an effort to garner monetary donations, Curtis wrote a letter that was distributed through her neighborhood this past winter. Sharing her words on paper, Curtis wrote about details of her friendship with Whelan, and how the Superwoman Fund would be used to help female patients.

Curtis’ 11-year-old sister, Hattie, helped her deliver 35 copies of the letter, and 8-year-old sister Mary Claire dug into her piggy bank to donate $1. Curtis set a goal of raising $500 but surpassed that, collecting a total of $2,271.

“We waited for the donations. Once we got the donations, I wrote back thank-you notes,” said Curtis, who added that many people wrote her encouraging notes.

“It was overwhelming,” Joe Curtis said. “Every little bit helped. She got donations from $1 up to hundreds of dollars.”

Curtis learned that the money she collected was given to a woman with cancer who is the mother of five children.

“She has this terrible illness. She has to work and take care of her kids. Her husband was right beside her,” Curtis said.

Joe Curtis also has fond memories of Whelan.

“She was an incredibly kind, sweet person,” he said. “You smiled when you spoke to her. She was so sweet and wanted to be with her daughter. We were so blessed to have known her.”

The Curtis family keeps in touch with Brian and Sophia Whelan.

“I hope she would be really proud of me and be really happy for the women getting all the donations,” Curtis said. “I want to keep doing this. It was really fun. I liked seeing all the kind notes toward me. I enjoyed my sisters helping me.”

To make a donation to the Superwoman Fund, visit www.henryford.com/superwoman.