PROVO — The event lasts just two nights, but its impact can last a lifetime. That’s the goal of the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation, which concluded its annual event Wednesday night with games, presents and, of course, Santa Claus.
It’s an event that BYU basketball has been heavily involved with since its inception 15 years ago and anxiously looks forward to every year. Coach Dave Rose, his players and Cosmo the Cougar are the centerpieces of the event and do their best to make it memorable.
“It’s something we all look forward to every year and something we love to do,” said BYU player Brandon Davies. “It’s a lot of fun and it means a lot to see how strong these families are with what they’ve gone through and we do our best to help the kids smile and have an enjoyable evening.”
CCCF's two-day event is an opportunity for those afflicted with the terrible disease and their families to simply feel normal and not alone in their struggles.
“It’s been such a blessing for us to be able to attend this event and realize that we’re not alone,” said Laurie Austin, whose daughter Emily was diagnosed with leukemia when she was just 5 years old. “We started attending the event about 15 years ago when Mac (Boyter) held it in the back of his car dealership, and it’s truly been a blessing for us to have this and it’s something we look forward to every year.”
The event has grown through the years and is now held over two nights in a massive gym inside Vivint's headquarters. Families are fed dinner, given presents, but — most importantly — are given the chance to interact and learn from those who are going through the same struggles.
The hope of the founders and all involved is to attract as many families as possible to lend as much support possible.
“It’s essential that we have families in every stage of the disease,” said coach Rose’s wife, Cheryl. “It’s so important that families who have just had a child diagnosed attend because their world has just been turned upside down. To walk in a room and sit with another family that has been through what they’re about to go through — it’s something that helps so much.”
The Roses have been involved with CCCF for a long time, but the disease struck even closer to home for them when coach Rose was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2009. He's since undergone surgery, however, and has been declared "cancer-free."
But the Roses know that so many others aren't as fortunate.
The Austin family has been through it all and has alternatively lent and received support through the 15 years that Emily battled through the disease. This was the first year the family attended the event without Emily, who passed away in August.
“She looked so forward to this event every year and we know that she’d want us to be here tonight,” Laurie said. “We can feel her spirit here and her watching over all these kids and their families. She’d want us to do whatever we could to continue to help people through everything and we’ll be involved and keep attending as long as they let us.”
All those involved wish to reach as many patients and their families as possible, which isn’t always easy given hospital privacy laws.
“We desperately want to find every single family that is afflicted with cancer,” said CCCF founder and cancer survivor Mac Boyter. “We want people to know that there is no fear in being associated with this. We’re a totally volunteer organization. ... These are tough times for these families and we just want to do our part to help relieve the tremendous burden they have."
Donations to CCCF can be made by visiting childrenwithcancerchristmasfoundation.org.