A conversation with the Angel Foundation and an adult who's been in my kids' shoes.
People say thing like, ‘kids are resilient,’ ‘they’ll bounce back,’ and so many platitudes.
The truth is, I’ve had a hard time getting over some of the stuff I’ve seen with my wife’s cancer, so how can I expect our kids to just take it and get up off the mat?
I didn’t know, so decided to reach out.
I turned to Emily Rezac, Program Manager of the ‘Facing Cancer Together’ program at the Angel Foundation, for answers. This program offers kid-friendly activities and Camp Angel, a summer camp, to help kids who are dealing with a parent with cancer. Events are designed to teach healthy communication and coping skills for kids.
I contacted Emily to learn more about the program.
Our programs get kids together to discuss cancer. We connect kids who are going through similar situations, in a place where kids can be kids and have fun at summer camp.
Hmmm, I thought. Sounds like a Jack's event. Emily told me that she wished she would have had something like these programs when she was young.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 7, and I was 14 when she was diagnosed with melanoma. I was anxious about her treatments. I knew something was going on, but I wasn't old enough to really understand it. I didn't have other people my age to relate to and connect with.
She was amazed that her parents had raised her and her sisters through such adversity. I thought of my own experience parenting through caregiving and could only hope that when my kids are older they hold us in such esteem. But maybe her parents had the doubts I have now, I thought. I mentioned that and asked her how her parents had done it.
My parents were great at communicating what was going on with my mom's treatments. They told us why she lost her hair. They talked to us about our feelings. It was just me and my 3 sisters. We didn't know any other kids who had gone through what we were going through. I wish we would have. That’s where our programs come in – they connect these kids with other kids who help them relate to cancer.
She beamed through the phone. She had that connection to these kids that The Angel Foundation served, kids just like she and her sisters were so many years ago.
Our programs help kids who feel alone, kids who feel isolated, kids who feel like they are the only ones going through what they’re going through. The programs are fun for kids and give them a social outlet, but they also have that twist - they educate about cancer and what they are going through. We bring these kids together and they can see that they are not alone. They connect.
It was a normal, though slightly bleak, Sunday afternoon in April and caregivers came from across the metro area to leave our situations, challenges, and stresses behind us and focus on one thing: Who had the biggest WhirlyBalls of them all?
The quick answer: Bob.
But as with most things, it is the journey -- not the destination. So, join me in a little bit of stopping-to-smell-the-proverbial-flowers. (Which I might add, if it hadn’t been so cold all month there might have been a few more of in the ground.)
With a rare exception, none of the gathered caregivers had heard of WhirlyBalls and frankly did not start in the mood of competitive spirit. After signing waivers which none of us could really have completely read, we were provided a quick overview of this sport which was described to us as the long-lost love-child of bumper cars, lacrosse, and basketball.
Honestly, we knew that coming in; but it was something different to be next to the court and see the bumper cars, the two digital backboards with targets which would (presumably) light up when hit by a whiffle ball propelled by a plastic racket. Each time the backboard lit up like a hockey scoreboard a point was scored. One point: one whirlyball.
So, the team that had the biggest score of whirlyballs would win. You can see how this got out of hand?
I mean, seriously: Thirteen guys letting off stress and steam on a Sunday afternoon with no football on the TV or distracting honey-do lists; only a whiffle ball to hurl at digital backboards with targets while turning every which direction in a bumper car -- what did you expect?
Remember bumper cars?
My body had a vague memory of the last time my 48-year old self sat in one. It was with my daughter 6 years earlier. She was on my lap; it was the only way the height guard would let her on the kiddie bumper cars at the State Fair. Bless their hearts, my neck hurt for a week. Remember the super-logical steering? All the way to the right to go forward and then 360 around to go backward, and when you are going forward left is left, and right is right but when you are going backward right is left and left is right-oh-lord-how-does-this-work?
For an hour we were all laughing and living just at that moment
Well, that is how we “moved” around the court. Up and forward, down and back. Red cars shooting at the red digital backboard with a target. Yellow cars at the yellow. Scooping up the whiffle balls, trying to throw passes, dropping them, smashing the ball into a pancake and throwing it, hurling it, slamming it against the digital backboard. Blocking cars from turning, trapping them in corners, or just slamming into folks just for the heck of it. It was awesome. Seriously, this was fun. None of us knew what we were doing, except Todd and Chris for some unexplainable reason, but for an hour we were all laughing and living just at that moment.
The only problem was that there didn’t seem to be a huge correlation between when you threw the ball against the backboard target and when the lights and buzzer went off and a Whirlyball was added to the scoreboard. Seriously, sometimes it went off and sometimes -- yeah, nothing.
Andy gets the ball at the post
Like a master Lucas set up the brackets and kept the competition honest. Team 1 blanked Team 2, and then Team 1 crushed Team 3. Then they went and drank some congratulatory beers as Team 2 and 3 played to determine who wasn’t the biggest loser. It was close, something which might have been called strategy started emerging. Players started playing positions. Attempts at fancy passes bouncing off the wall were made. Heck Team 2 even had a “play” -- it was simple: get the ball to Andy at the post -- and let him score. He seemed to throw the whiffle hard enough to make the thing light up. At the end that was enough, and Team 2 squeaked by Team 3 so that the final standings were 1-2-3 for teams 1-2-3.
I am sure Kyle will post the members of each of the teams so you can cross-reference. It will prove that Alan is not the curse he thought he was. Even though I’m super competitive I will admit, I’m not sure anyone really cared -- it truly was the journey.
A moment stolen
Our journey ended sharing a family meal at Buca di’Beppo under the watchful eye of Sophia Loren -- and the Pope. A stolen moment for friends who share a unique bond, an implicit understanding and desire to support each other.
And if you were wondering, the spaghetti and meatballs were really like Spaghetti and Meatball -- no “s”. And Bob got the biggest ball. The rest of us had to be happy with thoughtful certificates ranking our relative Whirlyball size. I have the second biggest WhirlyBalls.
Darnit Bob. Rematch?
Author: Joseph Barisonzi