By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Like many teens, Michelle Tilton, 17, has a full plate. She attends Westborough High School as a senior and played soccer until she suffered an ankle injury. She also holds down a job at Uhlman's Ice Cream stand. Unlike most teens, Tilton has lived most of her life with the knowledge that her mother, Carol, is fighting a brain tumor.
“You can’t really understand the situation unless you'se been in it,” Michelle said.
When an opportunity came to raise money to help combat brain tumors, however, Michelle took it. And she wasn's alone.
Michelle, with the help of her friends and coworkers, has raised thousands of dollars to participate in the National Brain Tumor Society's Boston 5K walk at Carson Beach in Boston Sunday, Oct. 6 to fund treatment for thousands of Americans like her mother.
Michelle said she was inspired by her older sister's participation in a similar event in May, and spent a month raising $1,700 on her own from family, friends, and schoolmates.
Another $1,500 was raised in only three days, thanks to the staff and customers at Uhlman's, where Michelle has worked since March. Those funds were raised over the weekend on Sept. 13-15, when staff donated their tips.
“The initial goal was $500,” Michelle said, adding that she learned to “never give up on your goal for fundraising.”
In addition, about 12 Uhlman's staff members will be participating in the 5K with Michelle in Boston, including manager Kelley Donley, whose family owns the ice cream stand.
“We'se a big part of the community, and she's a member of that community,” Donley said, referring to Michelle. “It's the responsibility of local businesses to help their community.”
According to Donley, all Uhlman's employees agreed to donate or walk for the cause within 30 minutes of learning Michelle's efforts on Facebook.
“I was shocked,” said Donley. “Those tips are gas money. These girls have very big hearts.”
Donley also praised customers who donated additional funds after learning of the 5K, some of whom left $20 tips.
“It's really an amazing story, when you have high school kids like that going out of their way to help a friend,” said Tom Halkin, communications manager for National Brain Tumor Society.
The Society, which funds research in brain tumor treatment, is the largest nonprofit in the U.S. dedicated to fighting brain tumors, said Halkin.
Almost 700,000 people in the U.S. are living with a brain tumor, and 69,000 are diagnosed every year as having a brain tumor, according to the Society.
“Brain tumors affect a lot more people than you think,” said Michelle.
Carol was diagnosed in 2002 with the tumor. Michelle said she was in first grade when she learned about the diagnosis. She added that she remembers her mother going into surgery when she was in fifth grade, at which point she said she was better able to understand what her mother was going through.
Today, Michelle said her mother takes medication for the tumor, but that she tires easily and suffers from the occasional seizure. Michelle helps in any way she can, driving her mother to appointments and shopping.
Carol was recovering from an unrelated knee surgery at the time her daughter was being interviewed. However, Michelle said that her mother became “teary-eyed” when she learned how successful the 5K fundraising efforts were.
“She was amazed,” she added.
For more information on the Brain Tumor Society, go to braintumor.org.