A few weeks ago a request for donations crossed my path on Facebook. I use social media for fundraising, so it caught my eye. Cal’s All Star Angel Foundation, a charity focused on making life for kids with cancer better, was seeking donations for its 12 Days of Christmas program.
For the past three years, the charity has “delivered” Christmas to seriously and terminally ill children treated at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. This involves gifts for the diagnosed child, and for each of their siblings as well. Then there is homemade Christmas cookies, a gingerbread house, and finally a gift card for a local grocery story so the family can have a special dinner catered, or shop for themselves, whichever they prefer.
What a great idea, I thought.
Our girl was diagnosed in 2007 and that year we spent the entire holiday season in the hospital, Donna recovering from her stem cell transplant. We walked in the door December 4 and Donna was not discharged until January 4. Christmas was not something we worried about that year.
In 2008, we brought Donna to the ER on Christmas Eve morning with listlessness and a fever. She checked out fine when we got there, no infection, so we went home. On Christmas Day, she was listless, and vomiting. No family celebration. We called the docs and because there was no fever, we got permission to stay home for the holiday. By 6 AM on the 26th we were back in the ER, Donna ashen and unresponsive and now had a fever. She had dangerously low levels of carbon dioxide in her blood and was diagnosed with RSV, a sometimes fatal cold strain for infants and immuno-suppressed children. Poor Mary Tyler Son’s due date was days away. Yeah, that was not much of a Christmas either. We didn’t know it at the time, but it would be Donna’s last one.
When I saw’s the 12 Days of Christmas program, I felt in my bones how worthwhile an initiative it was. Kids with cancer get lots of toys and extras because of their illness, it’s true, but to take the responsibility of Christmas from a family who is burdened with bills, stress, fear, and terror. Yeah, that is a good thing.
I put the word out on Facebook and within a 24 hour period, Donna’s Good Things had collected $1,399.00 to support Cal’s 12 Days. It really does feel good to do good. I dropped off the check with Cal’s Dad and Step-Mom who run the charity. In return, they asked if my family would like to be one of the volunteer families to “deliver” Christmas.
Deep breath in, deep breath out.
My first reaction was a bit of panic. To go into a home where there is a child who is seriously or terminally ill feels a bit like walking into the lion’s den to us. It is hard. Hard. We said yes.
The first child we were paired with was a little 7 year old girl with a brain tumor. There was a three year old brother, too. Just like my family. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Unfortunately, that little girl’s health took a turn and she died. Just like that, folks. Cancer does not care if it is Christmas time. I hold that family close in my thoughts.
In the end, we were paired with a different family. One little girl who loved all things purple and pink. Mary Tyler Son came down with a cough, so he was out. Mary Tyler Dad had to work, so he was out. Just me, walking into that lion’s den alone.
The thing is, the lion’s den is a familiar place to me. I’ve been there before and once you’ve been there, you never forget it. I wrapped this girl’s gifts special, finding pink and purple glitter wrapping paper and a pink snowflake for flair. Go big, you know? When you’re 9, more is always more. I wrapped those gifts with love. She felt like my own girl and I wanted everything to be perfect for her.
When I pulled up, I saw her peeking through the curtain. She bounded out of the house to greet me. She had a beautiful smile. Really gorgeous. And shiny eyes. She invited me into her home where I met her Mom and Dad and Grandmother. I sat at their table and visited as their beautiful girl opened her gifts. Love, love, love. Nothing but love.
It turns out, that lion’s den wasn’t so bad after all.
Thank you to all the generous donors who made our donation possible. Thank you to Cal’s All Star Angel Foundation for all the incredible programming and wish granting you do. Thank you to the family that opened their door to a stranger bearing gifts. I choose hope for that beautiful girl and wish her the Merriest of Christmases. Many, many Merry Christmases.