PROVO — Two weeks after she lost her daughter to brain cancer, Nancy Galbraith went to a Christmas party.
It wasn't just any holiday gathering.
It was a party meant to celebrate the lives and lift the spirits of children fighting cancer and their families.
For 14 years, Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation has offered families some Christmas cheer at a time in their lives when they feel lost and adrift in the physical, emotional and financial battle with cancer.
Galbraith found out about the foundation's two-day event from her dentist as they discussed the fact that her daughter, Erin, had a brain tumor. The family went to that first Christmas party when Erin was 4.
"She loved it," said Galbraith, who attended the party Wednesday night in Provo. "We loved coming. We loved going to the basketball games."
BYU men's basketball coach Dave Rose, his wife, Cheryl, and his players sign autographs, high-five and just hang out with the children (many of whom come in Cougar blue).
Santa even takes a break from his busy schedule to make an appearance, take a few last-minute requests and pose for pictures with families. They played games, made crafts and feasted on a meal they didn't have to prepare.
The children receive gifts, they get to choose a gift for themselves or a family member and when they leave, families get a gift bag that includes BYU basketball tickets and a Christmas turkey.
More importantly, they talked and talked to people who understood their situation.
"This is normal to us," she said of the parents who become friends through the program. She began to look forward to seeing those parents, hugging those children.
And then, on Nov. 29, 2009, Erin's battle with cancer ended.
Galbraith went to the parents' dinner alone, collected presents for her other children. The next night she and her two children made their way to the family party.
"I went to check in and I saw her name, Erin Galbraith, and it said, 'status: angel,' " and I stood there and cried. "Mac (Boyter, the founder of CCCF) just put his arm around me and let me cry."
She admits it was difficult to go to the party that Erin loved so soon after her death.
"Last year was awful," she said. "I'd just had her funeral two weeks earlier. ... It's hard; you want to stay home. You want to curl up in a ball, but you can't make it without friends and family, without support. They give you strength. I am glad I came."
She said she wanted to offer hope to other parents and check on their children.
"I wonder if they lost the battle with cancer or how they're doing," she said. "I want them to know 'You'll make it. You'll be OK.' It is hard."
Boyter started the program on a hope and a prayer, but Tuesday and Wednesday they were able to help about 1,000 families with Christmas.
"Some of these families are devastated by medical bills," he said. "For them, this is Christmas."
He praises the volunteers who donate their time, energy and money to put on the parties. They go out of their way to get to know the stories, the heartaches and the triumphs of the families.
"We want them to know they're not just coming to an event," he said.1 comment on this story
He knows presents won't cure any diseases, but they can return some of the joy and peace that should accompany the holiday season.
"All we can hope to do is our part," he said in between hugs and pictures with grateful families.
And to those who make it all possible, the hundreds of volunteers and thousands of donors, Galbraith says, "Thank you. One-hundred-thousand times thank you. I can never say thank you enough."