Up until a few years ago, my family was just like any other family in your neighborhood. My husband and I were both busy working professionals, and our children were happy and healthy. My son Michael was an 8-year-old little boy who loved to ride his bike, play video games, and clown around with his older sisters Kathleen and Cynthia.
Then one day, our whole world was turned upside down.
Michael burst into my bedroom at 5 a.m., crying, clutching his chest in pain and barely able to breathe. He was running a very high fever and was in such serious distress that we rushed him to the hospital. From that morning on life changed forever.
After many tests, x-rays, CT scans, and a biopsy, Michael was diagnosed with a very rare, but deadly, form of bone cancer. The doctors found a massive tumor that was growing out of his rib, pushing against his lung and liver and causing my little boy all that pain.
I felt as if I was going to die. As a health professional, I knew immediately what Michael’s prognosis was, and I knew that it wasn’t good. Emotionally I was a wreck.
Our life became a whirlwind of doctors, hospital rooms and medical treatments. Michael had surgery to remove three of his ribs and part of his lung. He endured ten months of grueling chemo – every six weeks for three to six days at a time. Nausea, fatigue, infections, pain, transfusions, and isolation were a regular part of his world.
At night, my mind would fill with unanswered questions. While searching the Web for any bit of information that might help, I found Starlight Starbright’s Coping with Chemo and devoured every bit of information about the disease and its treatment. I was still worried about Michael, but having some answers helped ease my fear.
As our lives began to revolve around Michael's illness, the idea of family activities became too overwhelming to contemplate. I stopped working to take care of him. Expenses grew. We stopped going places as a family.
One day, a nurse told me about a pizza party that Starlight was hosting. No one in our family had gone anywhere for fun in a long time. So, whispering a prayer, I signed our family up for the Great Escape Pizza Party. That Great Escape party changed our lives again. Michael, Kathleen and Cynthia all had a blast. Michael was like he used to be — happy and smiling. The girls were ecstatic just to be out of the house. My husband and I were grateful to see our children being children again.
We continued to enjoy family activities through Great Escapes nearly every month — it felt as if we were gradually returning to society. Starlight made us feel accepted and normal. But what made the events truly exceptional was getting to know other families who were struggling with the same fears and issues. My husband and I thought, “If other families in our situation can continue to enjoy their lives, maybe we don’t have to be so miserable.”
Since that first Great Escape Pizza Party, Starlight has been with my family every step of the way with their dynamic programs, brightening Michael’s hospital stays, restoring our hope between doctor’s visits and always reminding us that we’re not alone. I have come to believe that every family with a seriously ill child, wherever they live, needs a Starlight program close by, whether it’s the Coping with Chemo and Great Escapes that helped my family or any of the other in-hospital and outpatient entertainment, education and family activity programs.
This year, I made myself a promise. I would do everything I could to help bring Starlight into new communities around the country so that other mothers with seriously ill children could get the same support that brought my family out of our fear and isolation and into a network of caring and understanding friends.
To make this possible, Starlight needs the compassionate support of generous people like you. I sincerely hope you will consider making a gift today to help other families – just like mine. I am happy to say that Michael is back at school, riding his bike and doing most of the things that he used to do. He is still battling cancer today, but I know all the prayers that have been said and Starlight's unwavering support have helped encourage his healing. But, I still think of all the families out there who don’t have a Great Escape to go to; whose children fret in waiting rooms or languish in pediatric wards with nothing but their own fear to distract them.
Together, you and I can change this. With your support, we can bring Starlight to the millions of families in this country who are struggling to cope with chronic and life threatening illness, so that mothers like me can once again see smiles on the faces of their children.