Paying it forward: Mother battling cancer gives away flowers from son

Posted at 7:42 PM, Jun 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-02 10:58:36-04


It's been a tough four years for the Ulickey family.

Terese, the mother in the family, was told she had a pre-cancerous tumor in her breast. Stage-0. Nothing to worry about.

That changed as they removed the tumor and found much, much more.

"Mammograms don't always find it," Terese said. "Lo and behold, it was in two of three lymph nodes. Stage-1 to Stage-2 and put in a port and started chemo and radiation. We thought, OK, we're good. All gone. Eighteen months later, we went for a routine visit with the oncologist and found one tiny little bump on my neck. They went in for a biopsy of that and within days there were more and more."

Terese says the cancer had spread all throughout her chest and lymph nodes and doctors told her she would likely need treatment for the rest of her life.

"You just become numb," Terese said. "The doctors are talking to you and you don't hear a word. You hear the word cancer and you hear nothing after that. This wasn't going to be a short thing; six, eight, 12 months. It was going to be for good. You're going to be on some form of chemo for the rest of your life. It's like, you've got to be kidding me."

Instead of getting down because of a bad hand she was dealt, Terese tackled it head on with a positive attitude and felt she could beat this. Her family followed suit.

"I wanted a couple [flower] arrangements to blow her away after her first treatment," said Zachary Ulicke, Terese’s son. "I started a GoFundMe page and it just took off."

Zachary and his two brothers posted the GoFundMe on their Facebook pages and friends, family and other people they didn't know started donating money. In 20 hours, it had raised more than $2,000.

"I had to shut it down because we had too much money," Zachary said. "I didn't know what to do with all this."

So Zachary bought her six flower bouquets to give to Terese when she got home from her first treatment. He took a Facebook Live video to showcase the work friends and family had done.

"What are all these from?" Terese said when she got back from her first treatment.

"Over 75 people donated over $2,000 to buy you flowers every week you have chemo," Zachary said. "You have these six bouquets and every time you have chemo again you're going to get two more bouquets of flowers"

"That's crazy," Terese said. "This is crazy. Good lord. That money should be donated to someone who needs it."

It's that mindset that led to Terese's next idea.

"There are so many people who are worse off than me," Terese said. "Why me? I don't need two. One on the table is beautiful. I don't need these flowers all over the house. Can I take one when I go for treatment and give it to some random person just to brighten their day?"

"I said of course it would be OK," Zachary said. "That's an awesome idea. She was saying from the start, ‘I don't deserve this. There are other people that need this.' I said, no. These are all the people that care about you and love you. They're finally able to show that. I said this is all for you and the fact she wanted to do that speaks to who she is as a person. Nothing was ever about her or has been. It's always been about how she can use it and help other people."

So since her son surprised her some eight months ago, she's been giving away flowers every three weeks at her treatments.

"I hate to say it but it's more fun doing that than having the flowers sitting on my table," Terese said. "Now I'm like, I should take them both. These people really enjoy it and it feels so good to do that. Get a smile out of someone having a real hard time."

Her days for treatment are pretty lengthy. She is in for blood work in the morning, sees her various doctors and then goes for her treatment in the afternoon. Before it started, she stopped by the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin to drop off the flowers with the front desk.

"You're going to take care of finding someone?" Terese asked the front desk.

"I am," a woman with Froedtert said. "I'm already thinking."

Shortly after she finished meeting with her doctors, Terese came back upstairs, smiling from ear to ear thinking about the moment to come.

Her sons describe her smile as infectious but the happiness in her eyes is just as contagious. She entered a hospital room and changed the entire atmosphere of what was going on. You'd forget you were in a hospital, let alone see the flowers. But ahead, she went.

"[Zachary] thought it would be really nice if I had flowers every three weeks when I come for chemo," Terese said to the woman getting treatment. "I get two bouquets every three weeks and I said, no. I want to share it with someone who really needs to brighten up their day. So, that's why I'm bringing them to you."

"Oh my goodness," Sharon Rockroar said as she accepted the flowers. "Thank you. That's awfully generous of you."

"I got a beautiful bouquet at home so why shouldn't someone else have them too?" Terese said.

The flowers couldn't have gone to a better person on a beautiful June day. Rockroar used to work as a floral designer. She was going to be in the hospital for the better part of 12 hours and the flowers were a great respite from the reminder of being inside.

"They're absolutely gorgeous," Rockroar said. "I think that's beyond sweet. I'm grateful to have people like her and her son in my life and to be doing things like this for me. It makes me feel like there are people in the world who want to pay it forward. There are a lot of people going through the same thing or similar thing or a lot worse."

It's about more than flowers and generosity, though. Terese says she tries to talk to these people about what they're going through and use her own experiences to help them.

"Smile," Terese told Rockroar. "You've got beautiful flowers. Stay strong."

Terese says having someone who's not a doctor or nurse come in to talk to you can be a breath of fresh air.

"It's not, let me check your line or give you another drug," Terese said. "It's somebody that's more on their level and they almost breathe a sigh of relief that it's not a nurse, doctor or whatever. You feel the vibe. I like going in the room and saying, you know what? I'm doing it. You can do it too."

She has made it a life to share anything she can with others. She's as humble as they come and never wants thanks. But for one brief moment, she can selfishly enjoy the good she's doing in the world.

"It just feels so good that you can make somebody else smile and maybe make their day a little bit better," Terese said. "When sitting here, having treatments aren't what you want to be doing but you have to. If you can make them smile and make their day a little better, it's so worthwhile. It feels good. It feels so good."

For Zachary, this was his first time seeing his mom in action. Previously he had purchased the flowers with the money raised but he had never seen how happy it made someone else. In his 22 years, he knows who his mom is. He knows her kindness and her generosity. So it wasn't the first time, but it was one of the many times he was proud to call Terese Ulickey his mother.

"It's really special to see how she's affecting other people," Zachary said. "And seeing how great of a person my mom is. Seeing that that's stretching out to all these people that really need the support. She definitely offers it."

Almost on cue, Terese was quick to commend her son.

"I think you're turning out pretty good," Terese said. "I think the boys are all great."

Well, it takes a great mother to raise great boys.