As the holiday season approaches, I find myself reflecting on the many special Christmas experiences I've had throughout my life. Those very vivid moments that linger year after year after year.
One in particular rises far above the rest. I believe it changed everything for me.
After many stressful months of hospitals, protocols and medical terms, my son was deemed to be in remission. What a great day it was! At two years old, he was full of life and more active than he had ever been. It was time to celebrate. We decorated our home, wrapped tons of gifts and prepared for the highly anticipated visit from Santa. The tree was trimmed, lights sparkled and wreathes were hung. One more check-up stood between us and a merry Christmas.
The clinic visit was uneventful. He had just completed a grueling treatment and everyone expected a positive outcome. After seeing him, doctors were confident that the worst was behind us and we could finally exhale. We were all shocked when the lab results came back: Relapse.
I can honestly say I did not plan any of what happened next. It just happened. Rather than break the news to my three young children that we would be heading back to the hospital for another battle, the only words I could form were, "Let's start Christmas right now."
Wrapping paper was scattered all over the living room. Boxes, batteries and bows littered every inch of space around the tree. Cookie crumbs and milk dribbles trailed across the floor straight from the kitchen. Contents of three stockings spread across the fireplace and cheery holiday music whispered in the background. My home was filled with squeals and giggles and happiness. Even though the next day promised disaster, it seemed like a million years away.
I was right in the middle of pure happiness and I drank it up, savoring every single sip.
Some of us are lucky enough to realize that moment could be the last. Often times though, I think we skid through those great experiences without even realizing how important they truly are. I am thankful for my moment, and I am especially thankful that I had the presence of mind to understand that it might have to sustain me for years to come.
Because of that evening, I am now acutely aware of what sheer happiness looks like. I understand distraction and how it can help offset a bad situation. Through the Me Fine Foundation's mission, we are afforded a great opportunity to help other families similar to mine who are in the battle of their lives to find cures for their children's illnesses. I have seen the results up close; close enough sometimes to hear the sigh of relief that comes just moments after a caregiver hears, "We can help you with that."
Mortgages, car payments, medical equipment, a favorite meal or simply a loud, beeping toy that might overshadow a looming procedure; it all falls under our list of ways we can help. I find it all very worthwhile and although daunting at times, very meaningful. Of course, my favorite Me Fine project is Hope for the Holidays. We have spent many years trying to recreate our special moment for other families on similar journeys.
In just over 9 years, we have produced memorable holidays for over 350 families who might not otherwise have the means to provide such an experience. As most families exhaust all resources on treatment and treatment-related expenses, gifts tend to become a luxury. Christmas turns into a promise for next year as families attempt to navigate the emotional and financial effects of long-term treatment. We have made it part of our mission to change that and to give families something positive to reflect upon for years to come.
One of our first deliveries went to a family out of state. With the help of a very generous sponsor, the perfect gifts were selected -- three new bikes for the kids. Because one of the children hadn't been well enough to learn to ride, the gifts turned into a day of family entertainment as he proudly pedaled around his neighborhood showing off his prized possession and more importantly, victory over his disease. The true joy that was apparent in his mom's thank you message expressed more than any words ever could. It was priceless. Simply priceless.
Each year on Christmas morning as I watch my own kids tear into their packages, I can't help but smile a little knowing that because of our efforts, many other homes are filled with squeals and giggles and happiness. I'm not sure I'll ever experience another Christmas as perfect as when my family was whole, but I'm sure I will come very close.
This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and L'Oréal Paris to celebrate the Women of Worth program, honoring women making a beautiful difference in the world. The ten 2013 Women of Worth honorees are pursuing their passions to accomplish the extraordinary through philanthropic efforts in their communities. Bound by a deep sense of purpose and appetite for change, these women were chosen from thousands of applicants and each received $10,000 for her charitable cause from L'Oréal Paris. To learn more about Women of Worth or to submit a nomination beginning Spring 2014, please visit womenofworth.com.