Michael J. Friedman '11

On a typical day in his Kirkland suite, Michael “Mikey” J. Friedman ’11 could be found singing “Hakuna Matata,” playing with the protein modeling computer program Pymol, or coming up with some harebrained scheme to entertain and distract his friends, they said.

The aspiring oncologist passed away in early October at the age of 19, bringing an end to his four-and-a-half year battle with desmoplastic small round cell tumor, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

Friends and family said that Friedman exuded brightness—both in his intellect and his personality. His optimism even in the face of a bleak prognosis was the first trait noted by all who spoke of him.

Robert B. Schaaf ’11, one of Mikey’s roommates, described how Friedman once printed 50 or 60 copies of a photo that one of their other roommates found embarrassing and taped them to every possible surface in their suite (and put a couple up in Annenberg). On another occasion, he covered a roommate’s room in miniature green army men.

In spite of his severe and progressing condition, Friedman remained committed to being a normal college student. On top of his regular course load during his freshman year (his illness forced him to scale back slightly on his classes this fall), Friedman worked at a cancer research lab at the Medical School, wrote for the Harvard Science Review, and, on a whim, joined the Hapkido club with Schaaf.

“He had this way of keeping things in perspective, putting friendships first, people first,” said Mark A. Isaacson ’11, one of Friedman’s roommates.

Though he took his studies seriously—he went to class until the day he was admitted to the hospital for the last time—and did well academically, friends said he rarely needed to do any work.

During a remission in 2005, Friedman was granted a request by the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Rather than opting for a shopping spree, a meeting with a celebrity, or a trip to Disney World, he used the opportunity to found Mikey’s Way Foundation, a charity that raises money to improve entertainment facilities for children undergoing cancer treatment.

Friedman observed during his multiple extended hospital stays that his physical well-being was greatly improved by alleviating the stress and boredom of treatment through simple diversions, like video games or DVDs.

The foundation seeks to provide this relief for children whose families cannot afford these things. Since its creation, the foundation has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for toys purchased for hospitals across the country.

“It occurred to me that in some ways, because his battle with cancer so changed his perspective on so many things, the cancer that took him from us is also the cancer that gave him to us,” said Isaacson.

—Staff writer Aditi Balakrishna can be reached at balakris@fas.harvard.edu.