With only months to live, Sue Pulvirenti, a 74-year-old hospice patient, fulfilled her lifelong dream of publishing a book March 23 when she attended her own book signing at Half Price Books in Mesa.
The book signing was made possible by students in the DreamCatchers Red Mountain High School club and Rage for Charity.
And it brought Pulvirenti to tears.
“It’s like it shouldn’t have even happened,” she said. “I’m flabbergasted.”
Hospice DreamCatcher Foundation, also known as DreamCatchers, works with high school and college students to achieve the final dreams of terminally ill patients, according to the director of its advisory committee of DreamCatchers, Ashley Trussell.
DreamCatchers was introduced to Red Mountain High School two years ago, when Trussell said she encouraged her son Zach and daughter Tatum to start a chapter there.
“We brought it to the school to bring the community together and do good things for good people with our friends,” said Zach, a senior and the president of the club.
Since agreeing to take on Pulvirenti’s dream earlier this year, 12 students in the club have worked hard editing sections of her book, planning the book signing and raising money to pay for a limousine and balloons for the event, Zach said.
In addition to everything the students did to make her dream come true, Trussell said they also received a lot of help from Rage for Charity, which was founded by Lori Motola in July 2018 to empower millennials and Gen Z to create changes in their community.
“We help any community member who’s interested in devising and developing a service project raise funds to pay for that project,” she said.
Upon hearing what DreamCatchers wanted to do, Trussell said Motola immediately joined in.
“Rage for Charity purchased the books for us and donated the red carpet,” for the event, Trussell said.
The organization donated nearly $300 – which was just enough to buy the books, Motola said. She also had a team of volunteers, including herself, who helped edit parts of the book.
She also worked with Pulvirenti’s niece, Renee Pulve, who designed the cover art of the book.
Since being diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2012, Pulvirenti said she has known the cancer would kill her.
Because her body is no longer able to handle treatments after six years of fighting, she is biding her time and waiting to see how things go, she said.
Pulvirenti started her book, “Massai,” shortly after her husband passed away from cancer in 2010 and finished it by 2014 while she was undergoing treatment.
But she never imagined it would get published.
“I knew I couldn’t get it published because I live on Social Security, and it’s a lot of money to publish a book,” she said. “I was just going to leave it with my kids.”
She mentioned her desire to get her book published to East Valley Hospice’s director of social services, Tammy Cabrera. Before she knew it, Pulvirenti said she was speaking with Trussell and Motola, who were both determined to make it happen.
“They are unbelievable,” she said. “Cabrera dropped that on me, and I think I just sat there and cried.”
While Pulvirenti has been impacted by the experience, Trussell said the high schoolers have gotten just as much out of it.
“It’s really special to see these young students interact with Pulvirenti,” she said. “The compassion and joy they see from her really brings them happiness.”
Zach said his favorite part of the whole process has been interacting with her. “She texts us cute little messages all the time,” he said.
What stands out most to him about her is “how critical her condition is and how excited she was just to see us and what we were doing for her,” he said.
Shaq Daniels, vice president of DreamCatchers at Red Mountain, said he couldn’t wait to meet Pulvirenti and see her reaction.
“I’m just glad we’re able to do this for her, and it warms my heart knowing she has this going on,” he said. “It’s not something a lot of people get.”
Both Zach and Daniels said they would like to start a DreamCatchers chapter at their college in the coming years.
The nonprofit “makes you realize how little things you do really can impact and change someone’s life,” Zach said. “It’s cool to do things for people.”
Daniels wants “to spread the impact of DreamCatchers.”
“I’ve always wanted to help out however I can, and DreamCatchers gives me the opportunity to help out in a big way,” Daniels said. “It’s really impacted my life and given opportunities to people who don’t have the best situations.”
“Life is short and precious, and it’s something a lot of people take for granted,” he said. “We have to remind ourselves we don’t live forever and that it’s good to spend our days, however many they are, creating memories with the people we love.”
“Massai,” which is now available for purchase on Amazon, is inspired by a Native American/Chiricahua Apache man who is the book’s namesake, Pulvirenti said.
“I heard a story about Massai, but nobody would ever confirm what the story was so the more I thought about it the more I decided I would write my own story,” she said. “It’s all fiction, but he was a real person.”
In addition to donating 10 percent of every sale to both DreamCatchers and Rage for Charity, Trussell said Pulvirenti made sure to give a copy to all 12 students, who made her dream possible.
Pulvirenti said she mainly hopes people will find “comfort” from reading her book as well as the curiosity to go see the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona, where she spent a great deal of her time while writing the book.
In the meantime, Pulvirenti said she is ready for whatever comes next.
“If I were to wish for anything, I would want people to relax and enjoy life no matter what happens,” she said. “Because you never know what’s going to happen.”