Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Tammy Nelson, the mother of model/mentor/singer Carrigan Nelson. Carrigan is a local Rhode Island celebrity, known for her incredible voice, her volunteer work, and most recently, her inspiring journey as a spokeswoman for the rare bone cancer osteosarcoma.
About two years ago, Carrigan started experiencing pain in her knee and leg. With a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a busy schedule of modeling/singing performances, Carrigan assumed the discomfort was caused by stress and decided to push through the pain. Doctors told her she probably had a blood clot, and test results came back clean, but eventually Carrigan began to suspect something else was going on. Last February, Carrigan found a lump in her leg and started having dreams about cancer. Ignoring the clean test results, Carrigan followed her intuition and told her mom she needed to go to the ER to get better scans. On March 15, Tammy took Carrigan to the ER for six hours of testing, which eventually revealed a baseball-size tumor hidden underneath Carrigan's knee cap. The tumor was cancer. At age eighteen, Carrigan was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and almost had to have her leg amputated.
The doctors were able to save her leg and instead performed limb salvage surgery, an extensive surgery that involved moving her tendons around, removing her fibula bone, and taking off her knee cap temporarily to remove the cancerous tumor. Due to the invasive nature of this surgery, Carrigan ended up with a deep bone infection by August. On top of going through seven months of chemotherapy, Carrigan found herself in and out of surgery in order to drain the infected fluid. This past Tuesday, she went in for one of these minor surgeries and had her second to last high dose of chemo this past Monday. Her final chemotherapy treatment is scheduled for this coming Monday, and Carrigan couldn't be more excited.
Through all this pain, change, and fear, Tammy told me Carrigan has been nothing but positive. Despite hair loss, weight gain, and mobility issues, Carrigan continues to follow her dreams and spread hope through her talents and music. In fact, she seems more motivated than ever to make a difference in this world. True to her name's origin (Mt. Carrigan in New Hampshire), Carrigan is a source of strength. She spends her time at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island going around singing for the other patients. Often times for public performances, she chooses not to wear a wig, opting to embrace her journey in fighting cancer. When Rosemary's Wish Foundation granted her a wish, she asked to record an original song and sing it at a large venue in order to also get the chance to talk about osteosarcoma to a widespread crowd. She wants to be an advocate spokeswoman for the rare bone cancer. She wants to utilize her popularity as a role model and singer to bring more awareness to osteosarcoma to prevent others from being misdiagnosed in the early stages. She wants to further her dreams while uplifting and educating others.
Carrigan believes that even though her outer shell has changed since being diagnosed, her insides remain the same. She believes the most important ability anyone has is the ability to make an impact on others, so that's what she continues to do. She proved to herself, her family, friends, and many others that she is not a quitter by working with vocal coach, Angela Bacari, to regain her voice after her vocal chords were ulcerated from the chemo and winning Producer's Choice this year on Ethan Bortnik's Celebration of Music talent search. This Friday, Carrigan is receiving the Role Model Award from the Newport branch of the NAACP at the Atlantic Resort in Middletown, Rhode Island, and for the entire month of December, she is booked to perform on the Newport Dinner Train. Her wish from Rosemary's Wish Foundation is also set to come true sometime in the near future as she works with Grammy-winning producer, Mike Mangini, to record an original song in New York City at Melissa Mulligan Vocal Studios.
Carrigan doesn't stop. Carrigan doesn't quit. She is a dreamer, a believer, and a bright light of inspiration. Throughout her battle with cancer, she has been surrounded by love and support. In her music room, she has a wall devoted to mementos and homemade cards from the kids she's sang for and met along her mentoring path. She feels blessed by all the opportunities that continue to come her way, and she believes that for every moment that has brought her down, another moment has come to lift her even higher than she was before. This past Saturday, the community-organized fundraiser, Rise Up For Carrigan, was held for her at the Florence Gray Center in Newport. Strangers have also reached out to her, offering extra money from their own cancer fundraisers to help pay for her treatments. Recently, Billy Gilman, Rhode Island contestant from the singing show, The Voice, called Carrigan to tell her she's his inspiration, to which Carrigan said, "You're mine!" Tammy and Carrigan both feel incredibly fortunate for the outpouring of support and love from those around them.
Looking towards the future, Carrigan is excited to finish up chemo next week, regain her strength through physical therapy, and continue spreading positivity through her gift of song. She doesn't want to be a pop-star. She wants to grow as an advocate, share music therapy in hospitals, and uplift as many people as she can. She is beyond impressive and already so accomplished, and she's only eighteen! I can't wait to see what else lies ahead for the beautiful, talented, and resilient Carrigan Nelson.
"It's all about the climb. Carrigan Strong."
Carrigan Nelson's Website: http://carriganmnelson.com/
Rise Up For Carrigan Fundraiser: https://www.creativecommunitiescollaborative.org/rise-up