You think that Brian Urlacher can bring the pain? Or that Floyd Mayweather can make you hurt? That's nothing. That's child's play compared to the gut-wrenching, seemingly endless agony you experience when your child has cancer.
There is nothing that can compare to the mixture of anxiety and fear and panic that come when your little boy or girl is fighting cancer and going through the treatments and the side effects, and you're running back and forth between hospitals and the office and home and trying to take care of your other children and eating out of hospital cafeterias and sleeping where you can and wondering how you're going to pay for the $80-a-pill medicine and fighting with the insurance company for coverage.
Christmas time can be the worst. These people don't have the focus or energy or time or often the money to buy Christmas presents for their family.
While fighting his own battle with cancer, a man named Mack Boyter noticed the struggles that families with sick children have to endure and vowed that when he got well he would do something to help them.
He started an organization called The Children With Cancer Christmas Foundation. He went to then-BYU basketball coach Steve Cleveland and asked for help. When Cleveland left town, the torch was passed to his successor, Dave Rose, and his wife, Cheryl.
Here's what the group does: It provides Christmas each year for families who have children with cancer. On Dec. 18, the families will report to a room beneath Cougar Stadium, and their children both healthy and ill will be able to choose three presents. The next night they return to the stadium for a Christmas party in which they interact with BYU coaches and players, feast on a turkey dinner and present the parents with gifts and tickets to a BYU game.
"We have parents walk into room and burst into tears because they had no idea how they would do Christmas," says Cheryl Rose. "I can rarely talk about this without crying."
There were a handful of families helped that first Christmas a decade ago. Now the group is providing Christmas for more than 300 children, with the help of 200 volunteers and donors, and it's looking for more of all of the above. Members are trying to find more families who have sick children so they can offer them help (because of privacy issues, they have to rely on word of mouth), and they want more families who are willing to donate time and money.
"We're not doing a lot," says Dave Rose. "But we want to do something."
The program does more than provide a Christmas for families. It shows that people care, that the families aren't alone and forgotten. It also allows these families to meet and talk to other families who are going through the same experiences. They talk about the pain they feel, about trying to maintain their lives while the world rocks under their feet, about how their sick children handled certain treatments, about how their other children can feel neglected, and on and on it goes. There have been cases in which parents who lost their children to cancer return to the party just for the camaraderie and the chance to provide comfort to others.
"It's more than the toys and the money," says Cheryl Rose. "It's just knowing that people care."
"It's an emotional experience," says John Bernstein, whose son Michael has waged a long battle with cancer. "It's a phenomenal group. It's tough even talking about it. Any time people go out of their way and are that generous and that caring, it pulls at your heartstrings."
The funny thing is and isn't this the way these things seem to work? the ones who get the most out of it are often those who offer their help. Former BYU players call wanting to return and participate in the program again. Some of them call it one of the highlights of their careers. Travis Hansen, a former player, has started his own foundation. So has Rafael Araujo.
"These experiences lead to people wanting to help other people," Dave Rose said. "What they realize is how much happiness it brings to them when they help others."
If you want to experience a real Christmas, really know the joy of giving, of providing peace and good will, this might be your chance. If you wish to donate time, money or toys, or if you know of a family that needs help, contact the BYU basketball office (801-422-3612)."The only purpose of each volunteer is to make sure these families have a wonderful night," says Cheryl Rose. "In our family, we can't start the holidays until we have this experience. One thing we've learned is that these families don't take one minute for granted. I leave that party wanting to be a kinder person."
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