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 Early in July, stacks of orange-colored books began popping up on Instagram. Michele Voss, a book lover whose Instagram account is devoted to what she’s been reading, wanted to do something special to honor her husband, Ted Voss, who had kidney cancer and died in 2018. 

“I had been thinking about it for a while. People post [pictures of] book stacks to support each other and I wanted to spread awareness to help people recognize symptoms,” she said. 

So on June 30th – Ted’s birthday– Michele invited her friends to share images showing a stack of books with orange spines since orange represented kidney cancer awareness and use the tag #orangestacksforkidneycancer. Michele planned to donate a dollar to the local hospital for every book stack shared in the month after Ted’s birthday to support research and patient support programs. It was a way to raise awareness and honor and remember her husband. 

Michele noticed something was wrong with Ted while on vacation in August 2016. He wasn’t hungry and had a cough on and off since that spring. Michele suggested he visit a doctor, assuming he had developed allergies. For his cough, Ted got an X-ray, which captured part of his kidney. 

The X-ray revealed that Ted had renal cell carcinoma. The disease was in both kidneys and had metastasized to his lungs. With limited treatment options, Ted enrolled in a clinical trial at Smilow Cancer Hospital, a part of the Yale New Haven Health network. 

Throughout Ted’s journey, the family found comfort in their doctors, who would listen to their concerns, share information, and talk through results with the Voss family. Both Ted and Michele are scientists and were able to follow the science throughout the process. Passionate about his job and family, Ted worked full time until three weeks before he died. 

Two weeks into July, Michele’s #orangestacksforkidneycancer fundraiser took off. By the end of the month, over 900 posts – stacks and stacks of orange colored books – were shared by friends, family, and many others, including people from Croatia, Serbia, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan. Some even donated directly to Michele’s fundraiser. 

“The support was overwhelming. I was hoping for maybe 100 stacks and the intent [of #orangestacksforkidneycancer] was just a personal donation from me,” Michele said. 

With a match from her employer, Michele raised $6,000 and plans to donate to both Smilow Hospital and the Kidney Cancer Association. 

Michele and her son continue to keep Ted’s memory alive together. The Voss family enjoyed traveling and in the past Michele and her son have spread Ted’s ashes in different spots. The pair also take a shell or rock from every spot they’ve visited as a way to keep a piece of Ted with them. 

Ted and his son.

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