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FLATS Chicago Co-Founder Jay Michael, 34, Dies After Battle With Cancer

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Jay Michael. Photo courtesy FLATS Chicago.

“Cancer has taken my ability to walk, it’s taken away my hair, it’s put a hole into my brain and skull, it has taken almost every last bit of my energy, but it cannot and will not strip me of my undying will to live. So, as God throws me some very rotten lemons, I will undoubtedly make delicious lemonade and continue to find and cherish some true joy along the way.”

And he did. Jay Michael — the figurehead of FLATS Chicago, a division of CEDARst, a North Side business with properties in Edgewater which he co-founded with his childhood best friend Alex Samoylovich — spent his 20s working to build on and enhance his health, thinking creatively, developing a host of friends along the way. In his early 20s, he lost more than 150 pounds, weight loss and the strengthening of his heart his prerogatives, making vital changes to almost every part of his being. He was a runner, had lived and worked in London, and was described as a “visionary in the truest sense of the word; he only saw possibility and he was steadfast in bringing his ideas to life,” according to a statement from his company.

On Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, Michael, 34, passed away following a yearlong battle with stage 4 lymphoma. He died surrounded by his family, the son of Frances and the late Joseph Michael, the man he called “Abba,” (Hebrew for “daddy,”) and his older brothers, Steven and Mark.

He fought hard, in attitude, and with grit, learning to accept help when he needed it and, in a series of five blogs posted on Splash, a segment of the Chicago Sun-Times, he bared what, for his friends and other loved ones, might have been difficult to see, much less read: The pain and vulnerabilities that stem from chemotherapy, the need to rely on others for guided trips to the ER, the physical frailties that turn a strong, independent man into someone who finally admits that there’s strength in asking for help, too.

He fought his insurance company for needed medical tests, learning, along the way, that sometimes it takes a public relations war to get what you deserve — and certainly shouldn’t have to fight for. Yet since he owned his business, had the help of an assistant to argue on his behalf, and was able to take the needed time off to fight his cancer, he also knew that others in his position aren’t so lucky.

“So my question remains, who can afford this?,” he asked in Part IV of his blog series. “How does someone with my diagnosis — but who doesn’t have the flexibility of owning their company and being able to afford these treatments — survive? Do they have a much lower chance of survival? Does the average person in my shoes have the same chance to live?”

“I have spent most of my adult life developing my business,” Michael added. “I have always felt a strong sense of accomplishment and fulfillment from my work, but now my perspective has changed dramatically. As much as I am eager to get back to working more and fighting cancer less, advocating for those with less means and access than me, suffering from cancer will become and remain a major part of my life moving forward. If nothing more, it gives me one more wonderful reason to continue my fight for survival. I will live, I will never forget my journey and I will use this experience to make changes for those facing a deathly cancer after me.”

“We all deserve the right to live,” he said. “This battle will become a major part of my mission in life after cancer … perhaps one of my cancer’s greatest gift yet.”

A memorial service for Michael will be held at noon on Tuesday at Northbrook Community Synagogue, 2548 Jasper Court, Northbrook, IL, 60062. Burial will be at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at West Lawn Cemetery, 7801 W. Montrose Ave., Norridge, IL, 60706. Shiva will be held from 4 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at Chabad Wilmette, 2904 Old Glenview Road, Wilmette, IL, 60091, and on Wednesday and Thursday, from 4 to 9 p.m., at Merion, 1611 Chicago Ave. Evanston, IL, 60201.


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