If you are a new blog reader, you may not know that I was married before and lost my first husband, Andy, to cancer. Even though I have come a very long way in my grief process, there will never be a holiday season my heart isn't remembering him or the amazing families I met in our journey through cancer. I would like to share a bit of my experience with you this evening.
This is a photo of me and Andy on his first day in the transplant unit in Minneapolis. (Notice his Got Chemo? shirt. That was SO Andy!) It was Halloween, 2002, hence the big spider balloon and despite our happy faces, we were scared out of our minds. We had already been living in MN for a month collecting his stem cells and going through many strange and painful tests not to mention just waiting to begin the transplant. Despite how terrifying, unbelievably painful and lonely that time was, it was also a time of hope. After all other treatments had failed, a stem cell transplant was this one beam of hope that gave us a glimpse at the possibility of living cancer free.
We ended up not only spending our Halloween in the transplant unit, but our Thanksgiving and our Christmas in MN as well. Every holiday season I think back to those hospital rooms and how some family is living in them now, trying to somehow give their child a Merry Christmas amongst the tubes and beeping machines. That is so much harder than you could ever imagine. The majority of families getting a transplant don't live near a transplant center. They have to travel very far, leave their homes and jobs behind to care for their children, spouses or sometimes even a parent. Insurance doesn't pay for the house you have to leave behind or the car payment you still need to make. When Andy and I moved to MN for his transplant we had to pay $900 a month (5 years ago) for our apartment in MN, utilities, food, prescription co-pays and still pay for our car payments and our mortgage at home in Indiana. There was still a percentage we had to pay of the $350,000 transplant fee too. Not to mention I was on an unpaid family medical leave from my job and Andy was getting a fraction of his paycheck from disability.
We couldn't do it on our own. The whole community banded together and helped us pay for it. There was one organization that was an amazing gift to us during that entire ordeal and in the months afterward. The National Transplant Assistance Fund. They helped our community raise funds, managed the funds for us and gave us checks to pay for all the things I listed above. The NTAF was such a wonderful gift to us that I stayed in contact with them after losing Andrew and I am now on the board of directors for the NTAF.
One of my projects I'm involved with is the Light a Life campaign. We are raising funds to help build the NTAF's emergency assistance fund to help people who need funds right away and can not wait for the funds to be raised before they get their life saving drugs or medical care. This Christmas, in honor of Andrew and all the people in transplant units across the country, please consider giving a gift to the NTAF. Your donation can be given as a gift to a family member or friend in memory or in honor of someone special. The NTAF will send a card to your loved one, letting them know of the gift given on their behalf. Please visit NTAF's Website to light a life today.
This is a logo I designed as my first project on the board of directors last year. It was a really fun project and I'm thrilled it's something they can use on their materials over and over.
Also, if you know of someone going through any kind of transplant or who has endured a catastrophic spinal injury, the NTAF can help them raise funds they need. If you need more information, you can go to NTAF's Website or email me and I can tell you more.
Thank you very much. I know not everyone appreciates hearing about requests for donations, but the NTAF is truly an amazing organization and one very near to my heart. Andrew always said that once he got healthy he wanted to turn around and do for other cancer patients what so many had done for him. He was never able to do that so I try my best to help spread his message of the importance of giving back.