It’s understandable that Ali McDonough describes herself as “a 50-year-old stuck in a 23-year-old’s body.” She began losing her childhood on Jan. 29, 2007, when she was a junior at Ursuline Academy. That was when her younger brother, Andrew, was rushed to the hospital with what was believed to be appendicitis. But the diagnosis was much worse. It was leukemia. And 167 days later, Andrew died in his sister’s arms.
“It was heartbreaking and terrifying,” McDonough says. “I’m the big sister. I was thinking it should have been me. It made me grow up really fast.”
Following Andrew’s death, the McDonough family created the B+ Foundation. Its name is derived from Andrew’s blood type, and its goal is to help children and families fight childhood cancer. McDonough threw herself into the foundation’s work, so much so that, while a student at the University of Delaware, “the things most college students think are important just weren’t important to me.”
She’s working on her doctorate in clinical psychology at Widener University now, and hopes to help others survive grief and trauma. She’d love to help servicemen and women deployed overseas, as well as their families.
McDonough learned from her experiences. “Everybody is fighting their own battles,” she says. “But you might not be aware of what they are. You have to take a step back, and try to be kinder and smarter.”
If you knew you had only one year left, what would you do?
“I would ask myself, ‘Have I made someone’s life easier? Have I made someone smile today?’ I’d show more affection. I’d let the people around me know how much they mean to me.”