When the tight-knit South Perry district community heard Mandi Anderson’s cancer was back, they knew they had to do something.
Not just the gifts of meals, cash donations to help with treatment and bills, and words of encouragement – which were already coming in spades – but something different. Something more. Something the beloved server at Lantern Tap House wouldn’t expect.
So they turned to the historical children’s novel “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” a story about a woman who lived in Hiroshima at the time of the atomic bombing and developed leukemia as a result. The plot revolves around her quest to fold 1,000 paper cranes, because, according to Japanese legend, if she succeeded she would be granted a wish.
So the South Perry community folded. And folded. And folded some more. They folded at the tap house, at their homes while watching TV, and even while on vacation in Wisconsin. They taught customers to fold. And the customers taught friends.
“The whole point was for her to see that people took five minutes, or however long, to stop and think about her and send positive thoughts to her,” said Melinda Dolmage, the owner of Lantern Tap House, where Anderson has worked for about two years. “We want her to know how many people care about her, and love her and support her.”
It wasn’t long before Dolmage and crew had over 1,000 origami cranes, ready for a new home. They strung them up on a ladder, creating an ornate display of cascading, colorful paper, and stuck the display near the middle of the room in the Cracker Building downtown, where a benefit concert for the Anderson family was held Thursday evening.
As Anderson walked into the room, the air pounding with music by local band Bristol Music, she was quickly greeted by the dozens of friends, family members and loyal Lantern regulars looking for a hug and an ear to lend encouraging words. By the time she made it to the back of the room, where the cranes were waiting, her eyes were already wet with tears.
And when she took a minute to look and admire, they quickly welled over.
“I’ve been thinking of ways to express my gratitude, and I can’t think of the words,” she told the crowd during a speech later in the evening. “My heart is bursting. I just love every one of you guys.”
When Anderson was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, it broke the bank. Her daughter was only 11 months old, and even though she and her husband had steady jobs, the cost of treatment on top of a mortgage and a young child was too much. A lot of the bills were put on credit cards as the young family worked to scrape by.
Once the cancer was gone, she started working at the Lantern, where she’s made what she calls a “literal extended family” of regulars and friends who are as close as the real thing.
She and her husband, Hank Anderson, were still working to pay off the credit card debt when the bad news came again. Not only was her cancer back, but it had metastasized in her lungs. She could no longer work at the Lantern, and people noticed. Friends converged, setting up a meal plan and offering to help in whatever ways they could.
Even the benefit concert on Thursday, set up by friends and co-workers of the Lantern, was to raise money for treatment, and to give the family a slight sigh of relief while they focus on her health. Nearly everyone there agreed: She of all people could use and deserved the help, but she’d be the last person to ask for it.
“That’s what’s hard about something like this happening,” said her mother, Jan Rund. “She’s always out there helping everyone else. And sometimes it’s hard to receive.”
Anderson agreed. She said as she gets older, it’s hard for the spotlight to be on her, even if a room full of people were there just to see her and give her strength. She said she probably wouldn’t have even come to the concert if it wasn’t for a clever bit of timing by the organizers.
“First of all, they didn’t even tell me it was happening until they already secured the bands,” she said. “They knew I’d say no.”
In her speech to the crowd, she was shy, nervous and humble. She apologized for shaking.
“I really love you guys more than I can express,” she said. “And you are literally my extended family. There is no distinction.”
Her family didn’t think so, either, and let out a thunderous cheer.
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