OREM, Utah (ABC4) – A retired New Jersey couple spent Thursday driving through Northern Utah, but this wasn’t a vacation. It was the first leg of a 48-state road trip which they call a “Journey of Hope.”
It was a big sendoff for Dave and Linda Fleischer of Sparta, New Jersey as they pulled out of Ken Garff Honda of Orem in their donated 2021 CRV, the first few feet of a 15,000-mile voyage in honor of their daughter Sarah, a social worker, wife, and mother who suddenly had back pain one day in 2014.
“They gave her an MRI and they found a mass,” Dave told ABC4 News. “A week later after biopsies and everything, found out it was malignant and that was like a bomb dropped.”
It was cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of bile duct cancer. After four years of surgeries, chemotherapy, and clinical trials, she died on Sept. 18, 2018, at just 35 years old.
“She just had this way about her,” Dave says in a video posted on YouTube. “Smiling, laughing, grappling with really hard issues. Sarah was unforgettable and unrepeatable.”
For the 15th anniversary of the Herriman-based Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation, Dave planned this six-week journey to crisscross the contiguous 48 states to visit patients and caregivers, stop in 15 towns named Hope, raise awareness of this disease and money for research, and leave some Hope rocks hidden along the way.
“This is an opportunity I’m only going to have one time and I’m here to maximize it,” Dave said from behind the wheel. “The emotions are terrific because of the fact I think she’d be so proud of what we’re doing.”
“She’d be beaming,” Linda added. “She loved to travel as well and I know she’d just be thrilled. She’d be really happy.”
On Wednesday night, Dave had the opportunity to watch a video Sarah recorded before her death.
“She was speaking to a pharmaceutical company and I never knew she did this video and I never knew she considered it her “journey of hope” if you will,” he said choking back tears. “And that’s what I’m embarking on, so to me, it was the passing of the torch.”
The Fleischers know they are not making this journey alone. They say that Sarah’s presence will be with them every single mile.
“The fact that this has actually come to fruition and here go,” Dave said as they pulled onto University Parkway.
“Here we go,” Linda replied.
After 40 days on the road, the Fleischers plan to finish the trip right back here in Salt Lake City on June 29.
If you’d like to follow their progress or donate to the foundation, click here.