Cancer patient’s friends stage emotional drive-by

Tears began to roll down Rosemary Albright’s cheeks soon after the first few vehicles came rolling down her Columbus street by surprise Tuesday evening.

Motorists in the honking cars, trucks and SUVs were determined to at least emotionally come close to Albright in an age of COVID-19 and social distancing. And so, one by one, one after another, her dearest friends and relatives shouted to her from their vehicles: “We love you, Rosemary!” And “We’re praying for you, Rosemary!”

On the following day, she would be admitted to Franciscan Health Indianapolis for a bone marrow transplant to fight acute myeloid leukemia, first diagnosed Jan. 3. To protect her immune system during her 30 days, she will be in isolation at the hospital with no in-person visitors.

And then she will be isolated at home an added six months.

So this quickly planned event became her friends’ surprise, 115-car, 400-person, 30-minute makeshift group hug and send-off — organized by daughter Maddie Umphress, who then got help from Albright’s nephew and Indiana State Police officer Robert Hutson. He got traffic approval for the idea and led the lineup with an initial siren shriek.

Minutes into the procession, the 49-year-old Albright, a teacher at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School, felt the heart of the lesson of love. And while standing at her front window — the one covered in fanciful paper hearts — watching and listening to the proceedings, she broke down in gratitude, weeping into a towel.

“My daughter, Maddie, told me a few minutes beforehand that someone special was going to come to see me,” Albright said.

So forgive Maddie for innocently forgetting to tell mom about the other 399 people or so. Oops.

The parade included one vehicle with youngsters tossing rose petals out the window while the car bore the message “Roses for Rosie.” Signs such as this made her both laugh and cry.

Her principal and vice principal drove past. Ministers from her past church and current one. A favorite nurse from Franciscan Health Indianapolis. A relative from Kentucky. On and on.

The scene gave live stream a whole new meaning.

Balloons covered some cars. Streamers danced alongside others. A number of posters taped to cars featured Scripture references for Albright, a devout Christian.

“I’ve got Bibles and Scriptures everywhere lately,” the patient said. “I’ve got them all over the table. I’ve even got verses posted on the inside of kitchen cabinet doors.”

Many well-wishers rode past her home with family members poking through their car moonroof or with others stretched far outside the windows to wave joyfully to Albright. One family drove past with their children and their dog joyfully leaning out the car’s back passenger window.

“So much love and support,” said sister Ginger Hiatt, trying to video the whole affair from Albright’s front lawn on Home Avenue. “It’s so overwhelming.”

Hiatt remained dry-eyed during the long line of vehicles, but she acknowledged that she cried beforehand when she saw the wide-ranging turnout, generated mostly from a private Facebook group kept secret from Albright, as motorists eagerly lined up beforehand at nearby Columbus North High School.

Spouse Todd Albright said the outpouring touched him deeply. He and his wife noticed in one instance, an entire family of nine came, split into two carloads.

“This has been a very difficult time for us,” her husband said of the past three months. “But we’ve had so much love from our church and her school and other places. Every little bit of support helps. There are so many people who love her and are praying for her.”

Neighbor Walburga Oliver has visited with the Albrights at their front window recently, and she has texted with Rosemary Albright off and on.

“I think all this (love) is just great,” Oliver said. “I know she has an awful lot of friends.”

The parade was more than proof of that as participants blew kisses toward Albright and her spouse at the window, and they and other family members joyfully returned the affection. Cousin Justin Lucas’ drone buzzed overheard to capture it all on video.

The guest of honor found a silver lining in the general stay-at-home guidelines from authorities.

“This is all just so, so sweet,” Rosemary said afterward, still stationed at the window. “This quadrant where we live normally is very, very busy with traffic, so if this had been a normal day around here, I don’t think they would have been able to do this.”

But clearly, Rosemary is no ordinary person with no ordinary friends.

One car’s handmade sign in particular, a notation featuring a play on words, seemed to summarize the hopes and prayers of everyone involved in her cancer fight. It read simply: “All bright days ahead.”