The event is called unWined. It is a fundraiser for the pediatric oncology hematology (cancer) division of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. I was blessed at speaking at the first one 6 years ago and again last year. To date, they have raised just under 1 million dollars to help fight this hideous disease. We are always invited to attend as VIP’s whether we are speaking or not. Without having the pressure to speak, we were looking forward to a lovely (if not always potentially emotional) evening.
I should have known something was up when I teared up looking at the signed James Conner jersey that was part of the amazing silent auction. Why did that hit me so hard…so early on in the evening? As it is, the night moved along and it was great. I ran into the mom of a high school friend who couldn’t have been nicer and more appreciative of our time with Trey and how we handled things. I got to talk with a former volleyball player of mine and caught up on life and family. Rachel and I just love to dress up and be a part of something so great. Further, we do enjoy to people watch and there was no shortage of that as well.
Then the presentation started. I am always amazed and humbled by how much time, effort, and passion Co-Chairs Debbie Depew and Tiffany Casarcia put into this event. I am moved as they open up the event and tell their story. Paul Alexander and Shelly Duffy were great as they coordinated the evening. Then Lacie Spagnolo began to speak about her son Jimmy. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 4 months old and has battled them ever since. Jimmy was there too and his personality was beautiful, so full of life. As they told their story I began to notice myself being overwhelmed with emotion. Not to affect Rachel, I slowly stepped to my right to distance myself from her. “Why am I crying?” I asked myself. I looked back at Rachel and she was shaking her head, excusing herself to go to the restroom.
After we “got it together” we briefly talked about what had happened to us. The obvious answer is that we are seeing a boy surviving cancer whereas our Trey did not. Yet, that was not it. Not at all. We have written extensively that we are at peace with what has happened with us. We get it that this is what we were/are dealt and it is ours to persevere and thrive. We have done extensive work to heal and grieve. We have had comfort attached to all (much as I know) our pains. I can’t think of a terrible moment we had without remembering someone crying with me then, or as I told them about it. With all due respect, we were not crying because we were so happy for the Spagnolo family. We are happy for them, elated even. I love Lacie’s message about “being born for this.” It is wonderfully aggressive…and accurate. We are happy for them, but that was not the cause of the tears. What was then?
I’d like to tell you that it was being overwhelmed at God’s love for us. I wish it was because we were humbled to be chosen to walk this walk and be used to love and serve others through our travails. We are overwhelmed by God and humbled that He uses us, but that was not the cause of the tears. I’ve come to this conclusion.
I don’t know. Sometimes, there’s just emotions that are unidentified (especially with the trauma that we faced) and they overflow. Sometimes, it’s just time to cry…and that’s ok.
Then, when telling somebody about our experience, they asked if we ask ourselves why we put ourselves through that. I explained that we didn’t really expect the emotional moment (as we haven’t had them in years past) and therefor wouldn’t have thought to avoid it. I then told them about something else that happened later in the evening.
We met a woman who has a child with cancer. She was telling me that even though her child has the “good” leukemia (97% survival rate) that it has been tough. I listened and joined her in her pain (Rom 12:15). She then asked, “Do you guys have a child with cancer?” I hate it when people ask me that. Not because it hurts, not at all. It’s because my truthful answer is going to really change the conversation and most likely make them feel like they’ve hurt us. “We did” we said, “He passed away 3 (almost) years ago.” I reassured her that we were ok and told her that we were members of the same family that no one want to be a member of. Her reply was brutal, honest, and accurate.
“I hate being a part of this f’ing (though she used the full word) family. I hate this disease. I hate everything about it!” She loudly exclaimed. We were able to come alongside her, to listen, to comfort, to let her know that she was not alone. It was not about us, it was about her. She found out that I am a Pastor and we talked a bit about where God fits in all of this. It was sad, it was awkward, it was tough…and yet it was beautiful.
That’s why we go. Will we go again? Absolutely. We will stand behind Debbie, Tiffany, the staff, the volunteers, the families, and the hundreds that give thousands so that someday, no parent will ever hear the words, “Your child has cancer.” Plus, Rachel and I get to dress up and look nice.