Joelle Pauporté, a social and upbeat 34-year old psychiatrist and mother who had just started a new career in a new city, knew she was dying of breast cancer.
In the summer of 2003, when she was diagnosed, friends and family were in denial and told her to remain positive, but Joelle worried about how life would be for her then 2-year old daughter, Halle, growing up without her mother.
Joelle wondered who would play Beauty and the Beast with her. Who would sing her silly songs? Who would pin her first prom corsage on or dry her tears after her first boyfriend broke her heart? Who would be there at her wedding or the birth of her own children?
Instead of dwelling on her own fate, Joelle began compiling letters, cards, books and videos for various milestones in Halle's life to help her daughter remember her mother when she was gone. She carefully stored these treasures in her home and gave friends and family explicit instructions on when Halle should see them.
On some days during her two-year illness, she was so sick she could do no more than hold Halle in her arms and read her favorite books. This was an activity that required little physical effort on Joelle's part and helped her stay close to her daughter.
So Joelle began thinking, what if other parents or caregivers living with cancer could bond with their children through reading books?
She thought she should start a reading program and name it for a lullaby that she had sung to her daughter every night at bedtime since she was a baby.
Thus the Light One Little Candle Foundation was born.
Before Joelle got sick, she was a joyful person who always wanted to surround herself with friends. "She would have been great on a sitcom," said her younger sister, Michele Pauporté. Joelle loved to act and play sports.
"She had a great, infectious laugh and a big smile, but she was studious," recalled Lee Rosenberg, a high school friend who reconnected with Joelle at a reunion and remained close for the last several years, laughing about their teenage roadtrips and planning their future vacations together.
Joelle met her future husband "Peppie" on a break from medical school. They married and had a daughter and planned to settle down in New York when he accepted a new job in Hartford.
She soon landed a prestigious position as the chief resident for the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital, and they planned their future together with their little girl.
A Diagnosis and a Changed Life
Joelle spent ten years providing health care to others, and was very surprised to find herself on the receiving end shortly after the family moved to Connecticut. She struggled mightily to take care of her little "Moo-Moo," lifting her in and out of her carseat and dancing around the living room, despite the assault of aggressive treatments, her own fears and physical exhaustion.
Joelle began the book program, which would eventually become the Foundation, for other caregivers of young children affected by cancer in March of 2005. She died just a few short months later.
With the help of family and friends and the children's librarian at the Bishop's Corner Branch Library, the drive was designed to keep patients reading as Joelle did — to bond and connect with the young children in their lives when the future feels so uncertain.
Final words from Joelle
Before she died, Joelle Pauporté explained why she created Light One Little Candle.
"I feel this [Foundation] is a way for me to be in the role I have always been most comfortable: as a care provider. The book drive allows me to care for and bond with patients, patients' families, and my own family both now and after I am gone."