A sign of support across RI as Carrigan Nelson faces new cancer battle

PORTSMOUTH — Taped to the front door of Portsmouth Police Department headquarters is a large banner wishing happy birthday to Carrigan Nelson, the soon-to-be 22-year-old Portsmouth resident battling a rare bone cancer for the past five years.

"This family needs so much support, not only financially, but also the support of the community and the support of everyone in general, just being there for her and encouraging her,” Portsmouth Police Sgt. Maddie Pirri said. "Carrigan is such a fighter and it seems like no matter what obstacle is in her way she continues to push forward with a positive attitude and it's really inspiring.”

Portsmouth Police Department participated in a statewide effort to wish Carrigan Nelson, the soon-to-be 22-year-old with bone cancer, a happy birthday.
Portsmouth Police Department participated in a statewide effort to wish Carrigan Nelson, the soon-to-be 22-year-old with bone cancer, a happy birthday.

It matches 21 other signs on police stations across Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and even Missouri, thanks to an effort coordinated by South Kingstown police officer Jen Fonseca.

Fonseca founded The Hero Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting children undergoing cancer treatment. She has been following Nelson's story since Nelson was diagnosed in March 2019, when she was just 18 years old.

"I saw her birthday was coming up and so l really wanted to do something for her, so that's when I decided to get Rhode Island police departments involved to really rally behind her and support her and let her know we're here,” Fonseca said.

Nelson is a vocalist who most recently performed the Star Spangled Banner before a Red Sox game for over 30,000 people at Fenway Park. The event helped fundraise for the Jimmy Fund, which raises money for the Dana-Farber cancer institute in Boston.

Singing at Fenway Park 'an incredible night' as Carrigan Nelson continues cancer battle

In addition to her prowess as a performer, Nelson has received several community service awards for her work as a youth mentor. She received the 2019 NAACP Role Model of the Year award for Newport County, the 2020 Newport Daily News Youth Leadership Award and was the honorary Miss Rl’s outstanding teen for 2020.

Recently, she received news her Osteosarcoma has progressed, and she may need to undergo surgery to remove a large new tumor in her heart. Her medical team advised her to move up her 22nd birthday celebration in light of this news. Nelson's birthday is Feb. 8.

Pirri has known Nelson since she worked as a student resource officer when Nelson attended Portsmouth High school.

"I got to know Carrigan mainly because she was a student that was very well-liked by so many people, including her peers and staff,” Pirri said. "She had something about her that was just very appealing to people because she was very welcoming, she was very accepting and nice to everybody. She gave off the vibe that she was very caring and she was always there for people.”

She said Portsmouth Police Department jumped at the opportunity to support Nelson when Fonseca reached out to them.

COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARDS: Carrigan Nelson gives even as she battles cancer

Fonseca compiled a book of images showing all the police departments who participated and delivered it to Nelson on Monday. The day after the delivery, Fonseca herself was scheduled to undergo surgery. Fonseca said Nelson sent her a voice message to wish her well on her procedure and coach her through the anesthesia process.

"She not only thanked me for all the stuff I had done for her before, but she also wanted to walk me through the process of getting put to sleep,” Fonseca said. “ It was funny because she was saying that usually when you get put to sleep they make you count to a certain number to see how long you stay awake, so she was trying to bet to see who could stay up awake longer."

Nelson is resting at home in-between visits to her doctors in Boston, but Fonseca said she is doing alright. Nelson's family and friends have set up two T-shirt campaigns to support Nelson through her fourth round of cancer treatment. Another osteosarcoma Charity, MLB agents, is leading an effort to arrange a duet vocal performance with Nelson and singer-songwriter Miley Cyrus.

This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Carrigan Nelson of Portsmouth, RI, honored by RI police departments