- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 27, 2016

BERLIN, Conn. (AP) - Christmas arrived a week early for a smiling Larissa Podermanski when she met pop star Mariah Carey Saturday backstage at the Beacon Theater in New York City.

Fast-forward to the end of a fairytale night when Podermanski, who grew up in Middletown and Middlefield, spoke to Carey, an international musical diva, during a 15-minute private interlude backstage. Podermanski was able to convey to Carey how her work has inspired her since she was a teen, she said.

“I had a chance to tell my story about breast cancer and everyone was very intrigued by what I had to say,” said Podermanski, who was glad to have lost the “jitters” prior to meeting Carey.

The evening was the culmination of whirlwind events after getting notice hours earlier that a car would arrive for her and her husband, Martin Podermanski, to whisk them to Gotham, where the diva was set to perform.

Since diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer last spring, Podermanski, 30, has undergone treatment, including weekly chemotherapy.

When asked what wish she might want if one were granted, Podermanski always replied, “I’d like to meet Mariah,” she said. “Music helps when you are having a bad day,” said Podermanski. “When days are harder and you feel alone - cancer can be very lonely - when you are having a bad day, when no one understands you, music can pull you out of depression.”

Podermanski has been undergoing treatment since June. She was diagnosed months earlier with stage 2 breast cancer and, following a double mastectomy, she and her husband learned that the cancer had already spread to her liver and bones.

With creative assistance from her dedicated oncology nurses, Podermanski had a music video filmed, which shows a smiling, singing Podermanski as she receives chemotherapy. She is surrounded by nurses donning Mariah Carey masks as they sing backup to Podermanski’s lead in a personalized rendition of “All I Want For Christmas is You.”

When they learned of her wish, the oncology nurses at Starling Physicians jumped into action, creating the video message in short order. A team of nurses put together holiday costumes, tweaked song lyrics and created lots of cheer, Podermanski said. Standing in a ring around their patient, the nurses hold Carey masks on sticks and read lyrics written on the other side, Podermanski said.

The last time the Podermanskis saw Carey perform was Dec. 17, 2015, the night Martin proposed to Marissa.

A year to the day later, an invite to the Dec. 17 show came from Carey herself. The video, which was posted online, collected thousands of views on Facebook, Youtube, comedienne Ellen DeGeneres’ website, ellennation.com, and thepinkagenda.org, a national breast cancer awareness advocacy group.

“I didn’t think it would go viral,” said Podermanski, founder of Community Navigators, a nonprofit that serves people with disabilities. “I didn’t think I’d meet Mariah Carey.”

After Carey’s longtime backup singer MaryAnn Tatum saw the video, she looped Carey into a quickly unfolding story. From there, plans took shape quickly. Within days, the couple accepted an invitation to Saturday’s sold-out show.

The night also included dinner for two and door-to-door transport, said Podermanski.

The surprise call came at noon Saturday. “‘Is there any way you can come to New York today? We are going to pick you up,’” Carey’s staff informed Podermanski, she said. “Everything after that was a surprise. I just went along for the ride.”

Podermanski still feels a thrill thinking about the magical night. “People say, ‘You look really healthy, you look really good,’” said Podermanski, adding that “cancer takes a lot out of you.”

The couple appreciated the much-needed distraction from their regular routine “to do the things you want to do - it’s empowering,” said Podermanski, who continues to advocate for people with disabilities, and now intends to educate others about metastatic breast cancer and the importance of early diagnosis, she said.

“It’s scary telling your story but there’s a lot of positivity that comes with it,” Podermanski said. “Doing things to keep going is so important.”

A favorite Carey song, “Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s theme),” offers her particular inspiration, Podermanski said. The lyrics read, in part: “‘Cause there’s a light in me/ that shines brightly/ they can try/ but they can’t take that away from me.”

“I know I have this light inside me,” said Podermanski. “And I won’t let cancer take it away from me.”

“She is always looking at the positive,” Martin Podermanski added.

___

Information from: The Middletown Press, https://www.middletownpress.com


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