We like to share with you a story each year about one of our young Lending Hearts friends. This year, we would like you to know about our very special friend, Gary. Gary so beautifully wrote about his journey with cancer in the form of a poem.

SHARING HOPE: Flutterby Wings

It all started out as an average, chilly winter third grade day when my mom sent me to school to learn and play. She picked me up early that day with little to say, never to think my young age of nine would end up in disarray. I had planned on joining children’s church choir that night to practice singing on Easter Morning for Jesus with all of my might, but somehow instead, I spent the night in a noisy tube with bright flashing lights to see what was going on inside of my head. As I laid there, I yearned for my favorite toy as I laid awake praying for my life and everlasting joy. It was a long winter night wait on January 10, 2008.

Headaches debilitated me day after day but that never did stop me from saying, “mama, I love you. How was your day?” Who was to know that I had water on my brain adding a discomfort of constant pain, luckily to be relieved with a drain in my brain. On the CT screen, a wing-shaped shadow was all that could be seen. Life as I knew it was about to change as I saw tears stream down my mama’s face as I heard her hum the tune of Amazing Grace. My faith was strong but I knew something was wrong, and reality sank in by the break of dawn.

The time for surgery had arrived as my family and I prayed deep from within our hearts for healing from all that was recorded on my medical chart. Before I was taken into the operating room, I told my mama to have faith and that I would be well in a week. Once again, the butterfly wings appeared on the MRI screen, and this time I knew what the shadows did mean. The butterfly-shaped tumor was deep in its cocoon and only God knew that it would be set free shortly after noon.

The mass was not cancer free and radiation was part of my post-op therapy. Surgery was deemed asa medical success as I beat the odds of all that should have been as the winged shadows fluttered off my brain stem. The wings were those of Mercy, Grace, and Hope allowing the doctors to hear my heart beat for Jesus through their stethoscope. I told my mama that God wasn’t ready for me to sit upon his knee and that he would lay his healing touch on me. God placed his hands on my neurosurgeon team as he truly is the greatest physician of all.

Ten years later, in January of 2018, a freshman in college I’ve been challenged with unbeknownst disdain. Diagnosed with a new tumor on the same side of my brain, I am left wondering how I will yet again fight through the pain. Gamma Knife surgery was my next step as I am doing my best to continue the fight with all of my might despite rebuilding the years of restoring the pep in my step. I am a survivor. I am a warrior. I am brave. I want to inspire others who look at me and say, because of you “I didn’t give up.” My illness doesn’t define me, my strength and courage do.

Gary and his family have been part of our Lending Hearts family for nearly seven years and, like all our Lending Hearts families, has experienced the social & emotional support our monthly experiences. This year, we were pleased to expand our UP Street program, which offers pediatric integrative oncology wellness services at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. We now provide a full schedule for inpatient and clinic, offering nutrition coaching, lunches, hand & foot massage, mindfulness, aromatherapy, and yoga to patients and their families.

UP Street services help patients survive the impact of cancer treatment and integrate with their medical care. We’re asking you to consider donating $50 to help Lending Hearts continue to provide children and young adults like Gary with invaluable community and wellness support in their time of need. 100% of your donation directly impacts surviving treatment for pediatric oncology patients & families.

Help a child know they are not fighting this battle alone. Your gift of $50 makes a positive impact on the lives of young patients who are diagnosed with cancer and allows a family to share in a community filled with comfort and hope.

Gratefully,

Vasso E. Paliouras
Founder/Executive Director, Lending Hearts