It started with taking on the NYC Triathlon in 2011 with Team in Training and volunteering with their group at the Ronald McDonald House in February. My first night at the Ronald McDonald House in Manhattan - I met a little girl named Maja. She was being treated for Neuroblastoma and was there with her family from Norway. My cooking for the house turned into a private play date and I never looked back.
Maja, her sister Malin, and her parents became family. We had regular visits inside and outside of the house; when Maja was feeling bad and when she was good. I was there when she was at the hospital and she was there when I jumped into the Hudson months later at 4:30am despite the rain.
Months later, Maja's friend came over from Norway to be treated for Neuroblastoma at MSKCC. Her name, Vida. She also had a sister, Ivanna, who I bonded with instantly. Unlike Maja, Vida was quiet and much pickier about who she played with and let into her life. I was lucky enough to have been chosen. I would often split time with Maja and Vida and then take their siblings out for special days. Some days parents weren't allowed at all...and the girls and I would forget cancer and just be free.
As relapses came, both the girls and their families went back to Norway. Vida had been interviewed for a Make-a-Wish and she asked to take me, her best big friend, to Disneyland with her family. It became very clear to me that these families, these little people were now my own. When they were sad, I made them happy. And what had happened to me in the process, is something I am forever indebted to them for...I became a better person, someone completely different than before I walked into that room in 2011.
I went to Norway in 2012, a grand sleepover we were to have. Upon landing, out of nowhere, my Vida started to lose her fight. Against the advice of many - I flew to her hospital bed to be there - as promised. Her sister and I took turns laughing and crying, as I did what I could to make our last day together happy. And Vida smiled. She could barely breathe, but she asked to go to the playroom with us and she looked at me knowing I would always be there for her, for her family, and for her best friend - her sister Ivanna.
I left, going back to Maja - who would soon learn about yet another close friend who she'd never see again. She herself battling this same cancer that has taken so many others...she asked if I would visit her when she went into a "box."
These girls, Maja, Malin, Ivanna, and Vida...they are such a big part of my life. It is important to me to not only raise money for cancer research - but to physically continue to be a part of their lives. Last Christmas I was able to raise money and go see them all...and I think it works better than any chemo. The holidays are also particularly hard for Ivanna, and watching me fly down a ski slope with no idea how to stop makes missing your sister a bit easier.
It is hard for me to ask for money to visit them, but in order to continue to see them, do the volunteer work in NY, and actually live - it's just not possible to afford it. I am constantly taken by the kindness of others and the reason why I continue to give my time, is because at the end of the day - it's what I have.
Thank you in advance!
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