Maxine Renning '14 (left) with bride Jenna Langer and friend Alexandra Roque at Langer's wedding in September 2013. Langer, who received a bone marrow transplant from Renning in 2011, died last January from complications of cancer. (Courtesy Photo)
A recent Emerson graduate whose donation of bone marrow initially saved the life of a young woman, with whom she later became close friends, is now biking across the country to raise money in wake of the woman’s death.
Langer’s life improved for the three years after the bone marrow donation, but she died in January, at age 28, after a quick decline in her health.
“It’s such a symbolic ride,” said Renning, who becomes emotional when talking about Langer, who married her high school sweetheart just over a year before she passed away. “You’re pushing yourself to your peak physical capability to commemorate those who fought for their lives.”
Renning is participating in 4K for Cancer—riding a bicycle 4,000 miles across the United States this summer, from Baltimore to Portland, with a team of 30 college-age riders, none of whom she has met.
Each rider aims to raise $4,500 for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults—although Renning has increased her goal to $6,000 after already surpassing the initial amount—and will volunteer at hospitals, chemotherapy centers, and medical facilities across the country during their bike ride.
Maxine Renning '14 (right) with Jenna Langer and her husband, Jimmy Vancura. (Courtesy Photo)
Renning told Langer about the bike ride shortly before her passing.
“She was very supportive of it,” she said. “She posted about it on Facebook, and a lot of her friends and family donated.”
Renning was planning to use her Christmas vacation to visit Langer in the hospital in Minneapolis, but Langer emailed her saying she was too weak to see visitors. Her death came just weeks later.
On a summer day back in 2010, it was free pizza that led Renning to visit a blood donation drive in her hometown of Lincoln, Rhode Island.
“I thought I’d be killing two birds with one stone,” she said. “I could donate blood and get free pizza.”
But that on-a-whim decision would pull Renning into an experience that she will never forget.
“I can’t imagine it any other way,” she said.
“The whole process has really made me think about fate, the universe, and the ripple effect of something so small,” she continued. “It’s funny how something so inconsequential like that leads to this. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Renning was not allowed to know the identity of Langer until one year after making the bone marrow donation. (The donation procedure was uncomfortable and left Renning weak for about three weeks. Renning points out that in most bone marrow donations, there is little discomfort for the donor, and it is comparable to donating blood.)
The two decided to meet and quickly became close friends.
“We could have just not clicked and that would have been the end of it,” she said. “But we enjoyed each other’s company, and we enjoyed talking to each other. I became so close to her family.”
Renning plans to film her nationwide bike ride for a possible documentary, and is looking forward to living in a sleeping bag while riding 75 miles every day.
“I’m sure that by doing this with 30 people, the morale will stay high,” she said.