By Hannah Newman
One voice, one act of kindness, one life-changing cancer diagnosis.
In summer 2020, Rider alum Lorelei Colbert ’14, a 28-year-old newly married woman who had plans to move to Japan with her husband on military orders, was blindsided by reality.
With a need to update health records prior to moving overseas, Colbert made an appointment to discuss birth control options with her doctor and was told that a breast exam wasn’t necessary; however, Colbert was quick to challenge her doctor’s suggestion after feeling influenced by a nurse that carried kindness with every word she spoke.
“I walked in and she was so kind and amazing… she questioned me about not getting a breast exam when the doctor walked out of the room,” said Colbert. “I just thought how profound her one act of kindness made me question the doctor, but it really changed my life.”
The exam delivered the news that Colbert had stage two B, grade-three triple negative breast cancer.
As plans were altered and her journey overseas became a path to overcome cancer, Colbert refused to let the physical battle become a mental war, and instead let the people who inspired her become the reason she strives to change the lives of others.
Colbert, with her background in marketing, decided to develop a way for the world to come with her on her journey through chemotherapy by creating the Chemo to Kindness Challenge, a tag on social media where people could embrace acts of kindness they displayed or received as a way of demonstrating her gratitude for the one nurse she met that saved her life by simply looking out for her.
“When you’re starting a journey like chemotherapy for really aggressive cancer, you don’t know what your future holds,” said Colbert. “I knew I was ready to fight like hell. But I knew I wanted to take it on my own way and wanted to raise awareness.”
Adversity to achievement
On Oct. 19, 2020, right before entering the hospital for her first treatment, Colbert launched the Chemo to Kindness Challenge on social media.
“I posted the flier and I just said,‘Today’s the day I’m starting chemo. I would love it if you join this Chemo to Kindness Challenge with me for the next 16 weeks.’ My favorite number was 16. I wanted to go big or go home so I decided 100 acts of kindness a week had to be doable,” said Colbert.
With one push of a button, one suggestion to be kind and a single ask for help during a life changing situation, Colbert’s kind request spread across the globe.
“Every week, I just got flooded with immense positivity and acts of kindness coming in from all over. I mean, different countries, different states and eventually it started spreading to people I didn’t know and there really was the power of kindness,” said Colbert. “It uplifted me in the chair, it uplifted my nurses and other patients that I got to share it with.”
The campaign became such a success that Colbert launched a website so that the challenge could spread even further and people were able to interact with not just her, but each other.
The world was given the opportunity to share acts of kindness via a spreadsheet that could be found on Colbert’s website and would emphasize the nonprofits they impacted.
“I’m always uplifted when I talk about the Chemo to Kindness Challenge and truthfully, I’m always blown away by the community and by the power that that challenge had,” said Colbert. “It guided me through my journey in my own way. And now when I talk to other patients and survivors, I remind them to control what you can and face your journey and whatever feels good for you. And for me, it was just the right thing to do and it’s so uplifting.”
One year later, about a day after Colbert’s 29th birthday, she received a call from her surgeon which marked the end of her long battle fighting breast cancer.
“I could barely even lift my arms but I was so excited,” said Colbert.
After extending the news to her family, she made sure that the community behind her, which became her biggest fans, were given an update. At that point in her journey, Colbert had created an entire diary of herself that was shared with the world and the acts of kindness multiplied by the second.
“At that point, we have this, this community of kindness behind me and all these people rooting me on because I was doing the challenge. I would sign on every week and give an update. ‘Hey, we know 700 acts of kindness. We’re at 892 this week, but also this is where I’m at in my journey. My hair fell out this week. It was hard. I’m having a lot of bone pain this week. There was one time where my vision was blurred because of the medication.’ So I had a lot of people rooting me on,” said Colbert.
Although her long-fought battle with cancer came to an end, her commitment to changing the world was only just beginning. Colbert wanted to continue sharing her story.
In October 2021, she began her next journey as an advocate speaker for a women’s group. Colbert now travels around the country to advocate for change and share her story as a way of sharing the notion that adversity is the elevation to achievement.
Back to where it all began
Colbert has returned to Rider on several occasions to be a guest speaker and visit those that have impacted her college career. As a college student, Colbert was heavily involved on campus ranging from the women’s basketball manager to student-body president.
Those that she left behind at Rider knew what she was capable of and how monumental her strength was.
“She is one of those people that can get along with anybody, that can read the room and know what needs to be done to put everybody in a successful situation,” said Rider women’s basketball Head Coach Lynn Milligan. “When she walks in a room, you know that she’s walking in the room, because I just think she has kind of that infectious personality.”
The environment she created when in her presence has drawn the student body to her instantly according to her prior roommate, Jessica Richardson, Rider alum.
“She’s one of those people that has such a warm, welcoming presence and a way to resonate with people and connect with all different backgrounds and I think that’s what drew me as a friend,” said Richardson. “She’s meant to do big things. In my eyes, she’s that type of person that doesn’t have to ask anything, like if Lorelei says she’s gonna do something she’s gonna do it and she’s going to give it 100%.”
In addition to becoming a guest speaker, Colbert has also developed her own merchandise, including note cards and hats.
“I dipped my toe into merch with cards. They were an immediate extension of my experience going through chemo,” said Colbert. “I started painting again and like I said, going through a journey like facing cancer, puts things into perspective. ‘Am I living my life the way I want to be living it? Am I feeling joy? Am I doing all these things that make my heart happy?’ One of those things was that I used to paint when I was little.”
Colbert first conducted a fundraiser by selling the personalized cards and gave the money she raised back to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation.
A store in North Carolina where Colbert resides decided to buy her cards and sell them in addition to their opportunity for purchase on her website.
Some of the hats include slogans such as ‘Be Kind’ and the French word “Survivre,” which means survive. Survivre, when broken down into its root words means “on to live” which is a saying that Colbert has held close to her heart throughout her journey and beyond.
When I think about opportunity after adversity, that’s exactly what survivre represents,” said Colbert. “It doesn’t matter what you’re facing, but it just means to keep going forward.”
Recently, after being cancer free for a couple of years now, Colbert reconciled with the nurse that recommended her for a breast exam and in that moment, everything circled back to the one moment that changed everything. Just a single act of kindness.
“After almost three years we met in person, and she remembered exactly what I was wearing that day, even though we both had masks on and everything,” said Colbert. “I told her ‘You know you saved my life. And turns out her mother had breast cancer at 27 and that is why she always advocates for young women. I’m tearing up thinking about how amazing that is.”