I wrote this blog entry for the Heroes for Children blog, but wanted to share it here as well.In November 2004, Heroes for Children was formed. Our very first application came in to support Olivia, a patient at Medical City Children's Hospital. Olivia had been battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for almost three years at that point. After relapsing, her brother Tyler was her bone marrow match for a transplant in October 2004. The picture above was taken in early 2005.
From that early time of Heroes for Children, Olivia and her family were incredibly special to me and Larissa as Co-Founders, as well as to Heroes for Children as a whole. Friends of their family put on a Night of Broadway concert in the spring of 2005 to raise funds for Heroes for Children as well their family. This was a perfect event for them. Never have a met a more talented family! All of them are talented--dancing, acting, singing. The family is the epitome of the triple threat!
I absolutely fell in love with Olivia's sweet face and humor. I adored and admired her parents Joseph and Kandis. They've raised five beautiful and awesome kids and have kept them grounded as a family in a way that many couldn't. As a volunteer with a kids cancer camp, I got the special treat of spending a week with Olivia several summers in a row. Waiting for the Medical City kids to get off the bus was always great for me because I knew she would jump off and immediately give me a huge hug. She laughed and hung out with me in Arts and Crafts, and usually spent time with me at the dance filling me in on all things going on with her family.
Almost five years after Olivia's transplant, she relapsed in August 2009. Since then, I've witnessed strength and courage like no other--both from Olivia, her parents, and her wonderful family. Her cancer treatment took them eventually to MD Anderson in January 2010 after being told that no further treatment was an option. Olivia fought. She fought this battle, but she never fought alone. Kandis and Joseph made it work with traveling to and from Houston as well as juggling their other two young daughters still living at home. She fought alongside her older sister Kaitlin who stayed with her in Houston. She fought along with her family and friends who supported her both near and far. I'm proud to say Heroes for Children helped her fight a little too. She and her family were part of our Holiday Heroes program in 2009, even getting them tickets to see 101 Dalmatians the musical at Dallas Summer Musicals. We sent a "Harry Potter Party in a box" to help her celebrate her 12th birthday Hogwarts style, gave her a laptop through our Laptops for Love program, and hung out with her at the Night at the Museum event at the Museum of Nature and Science.
Joseph, Maddie, Kandis, Jenny from HFC (me), Isabel, Larissa from HFC
and Olivia front and center
On February 13th this year, I was so excited when Joseph and Kandis joined us for the annual Valentine's Dinner for HFC families. Olivia and Kaitlin had already headed back to Houston for the next day's chemotherapy. Larissa and I excitedly talked to Kandis about coming to visit Olivia with our girls when she was in town soon. Seeing Kandis and getting to hug her made my night. I love the Valentine's Dinner so much, but that hug I loved even more.
I cannot fully describe to you the shock and sadness when I learned a week and a half later that sweet Olivia had lost her ten year battle with leukemia. This past Sunday, I sat in a funeral home and watched her amazing family say goodbye to their beautiful inspiration. The funeral was like none other I've ever attended. Glee was Olivia's favorite and, of course, "Don't Stop Believein'" was her theme song. Olivia was FUNNY and her family made sure to share that. She loved music, dance, and cooking "with aspirations of one day becoming a famous pastry chef." Slideshows of Olivia's life were played to Glee songs and showed her goofy, happy, loving, and strong. I especially love the ones of silly string fights in the hospital and sneaking in her little Yorkie into the hospital!
I was blown away and truly humbled by Kandis, Joseph, Kaitlin, Tyler, Maddie and Isabel. There wasn't a stranger presiding over this service. Along with Joseph's two sisters, the celebration of Olivia's life was run entirely by her family. I watched my dear friend Kandis speak lovingly about her daughter and her children. I listened as she spoke of her love for Joseph and the blessings in her life. I closed my eyes with tears streaming down them as Tyler sang to his sister a song from Into the Woods. I bawled when Joseph sang to his beautiful daughter, his very own love song to her. I watched in awe as Maddie and Kaitlin told stories and spoke about their sister with more love than most siblings share. It was truly one of the most moving moments of my life. I told both Joseph and Kandis afterwards that if my children love and respect me HALF as much as theirs do when they are older, I will consider it a success.
Till I die, I will never know why children get cancer. I will never know why they have to hurt this way. One thing I know for absolute certain, Olivia was loved. Olivia was adored. Olivia was strong, sweet, funny, creative, talented, brave, and beautiful. Olivia's family is blessed.
To my sweet friends Kandis and Joseph--please know how much you mean to me and how knowing your family has forever changed my life. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of Olivia's life. What a true privilege.
To Olivia--thank you for being my friend. I will forever remember you. Please give our angels a squeeze from us. Larissa and I thank you for being in our lives and the entire Heroes for Children family loves you.