Monday, January 23, 2012

Making Lemon Out of Lemonade

In early January, we were honored to receive an invitation to attend the 5th Annual Lemon Ball, a fundraising gala for Alex's Lemonade on Saturday, January 14th.  When we'd first received info about the Ball, we'd joked about attending, but knew that the tickets were a bit out of our price range.  So, imagine our surprise when we were contacted by ALSF with the offer of complimentary tickets.  (When top name sponsors, like Bacardi or Volvo, donate their tickets back to the event, they are given to "hero families".)  We first offered them to Peter's parents; as Robert's parents, we felt like they deserved to have first dibs.  They declined (it was a late night event) but Uita (P's mom) offered to babysit so that we could go.  Sarah came on board as a second pair of hands.  Now, why is this an even bigger deal than normal?  The two of them had already volunteered to hang with the kids on Sunday, so that we could have a date afternoon/night.  Not only were they willing to watch the kids for Saturday, but they were okay with doing day #2!  (which turned out to be uber hard on Mama and Daddy, who didnt get to spend a lot of the weekend with the kids, but was nice in that we got some much loved Michele & Peter time)

The event is black tie (or slightly less, since men are invited to wear suits or tuxs, and you dont have to wear a floor length gown, tea length is fine and, for some women, apparently miniskirts do indeed come in formal wear!  Not on this butt!), so we dressed up.  It gave me an excuse to wear my Christmas finery again, and I love Peter in a suit (note to self: get that man a 3 piece suit.  He'll give Neal Caffrey a run for his money!) 

This is actually from Christmas, but apparently the photos from before we left for the Lemon Ball were lost; but these are the outfits we were wearing!

The event is touching.  When we got to the hotel and saw all of the people who turned out to honor a girl who simply wanted to help other kids with cancer by donating money from her lemonade stand, it was lump-in-the-throat inducing.  We checked my coat and went into the cocktail hour, where the silent auction was going on.  After having a few drinks (lemon drops, anyone?) while walking around the tables, we bid on a few items: a trip to San Francisco (we were quickly outbid on that one), an internship at ALSF (we were outbid on that one as well), and a spot on a Team Lemon (running) event (at the time I didnt know what for) and race gear.  I really wanted that one, but at the same time, it's a charity event and I also wanted it to bid up as high as it could.  We arent really in the same income bracket as some of those bids (like the uber cool suite seats to a Union game!) but, we were having a nice time, and the money was going to a nice cause.  We also bought 2 raffle tickests for a $19K bracelet (one for Bobby and one for Maya) with the idea that while I'm not a ritzy jewelry kind of girl, it would be a nice gift to their college funds! 

5 minutes before the cocktails and auction ended, we walked by the tables and, sure enough, we'd been outbid on everything.  But that was okay.  We walked by some more (like the Tarot party) to see how high the bids had gotten and, as I'm commenting to Peter about a gorgeous ($750) hand carved salad bowl, I turn around to notice that I'm talking to air.  I search through the crowd of people and see him...  At the table... Writing in another bid... 

And, in a few moments, we won me a spot on a Team Lemon race... And not just any race.  A marathon!  Like 26.2 miles of running!!!  The two they listed were the Philly or the Marine Corps, but the paperwork said that I could negotiate a specific race where they have a team.  I'm not ashamed to say that I cried.  When I started running, I used to wear an icon necklace of Our Lady of Czestochowa that was Robert's.  I used to feel like I was running for him... Because he couldnt.  Then, there was the running for each of my children who weren't in this world with me.  But, Robert's always with me on the runs too...  When I was tired during my half in September, I would talk to each of them... And he was there.  On that run.  Helping me push to the end.  And so, to run a full marathon, knowing that I'm on a team that is raising awareness about neuroblastoma and other childhood cancers...  It's like running with Robert holding my hand. 

But I digress... We were leaving the cocktail ballroom and walking towards the escalators that would take us to the next floor for dinner, when we decided to pause and watch the big screen.   Images of previous ALSF events, pics of Alex, and pics of other childhood survivors and heros flashed.  And, in the moment we'd stopped, the next picture that flashed, was one of Robert.  Smiling up at the camera, surrounded by pumpkins.  The last picture before he passed away, and a family favorite.  I lost it.  It was just too much.  When I thanked the Foundation for the tickets, I mentioned this moment, and our contact there said that it was a magical moment because the footage was so long we wouldnt have likely seen Robert's picture again had we missed it that time.

We had dinner, and met some lovely people.  A woman and her daughter, who is fighting neuroblastoma, sat next to Peter (and they had won the internship at the auction... so glad); as the mom and I were talking, she mentioned she had twin boys in their teens... and that she'd lost triplets born at 25w.  The couple next to me?  Their son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at 18 months... and died at 26 months.  It hit hard, not just because they'd lost children- babies- but because I had 28 month olds at home; I missed them terribly and was so grateful that I could go home and snuggle them... And sad because those parents couldnt.  That mom and I, we held hands at part of the dinner, and wept with one another.  Because it's hard.  And it's so damn unfair.

Cancer, like pregnancy loss and IC and infertility, doesnt discriminate.  There's no one who 'deserves' to have it; and it sucks.  It sucks big time.

Alex's parents spoke and I have yet to not be impressed by these people.  I've run with Alex's mom in the Lemon Run and she (and the rest of her family) are just such lovely people who truly are giving all they have to the cause of eradicating childhood cancer.  She shared a story that, even now, brings me to tears.  They were at the stage where they knew Alex wasnt going to be a survivor and, as she and her daughter were talking, Alex asked her where the money they were raising was going.  Her mom explained that it was going to her (Alex's) hospital to try and research neuroblastoma.  Alex's response- and this from a young girl- was that that wasn't good enough.  The money needed to go to all children's hospitals to research all childhood cancers because all children needed a cure. 

Her mom said that, in that moment, all she could think about was I dont care about everyone else.  I just want a cure for neuroblastoma... a cure for you!  And then she said that, in that moment, her daughter's legacy became clear and she, too, realized that yes, all children need that cure.

The chair of the event, in his opening speech, said that one day, we wont be raising money to find a cure.  Because, one day, we will find it.  Then, we'll be raising money to figure out a way to stop it altogether so that no child- and no family- has to go through the monster that is cancer.  God, I hope he's right.  I hope that  every dollar we raise when it's Lemon Run time... every dollar we send to places like Sloan-Kettering and ALSF...  I hope that one day, somewhere, someone finds a cure.  And families dont know what the hell of losing a child to cancer is like.  That parents dont mourn a child they'll never watch grow up... That siblings never have to suffer through burying their best friend.

Over $650,000 was raised in one night, in memory of not just that sweet little girl with a dream, but in memory of all those children- including Robert- who have fought the good fight before taking their sweet rest, and in honor of all those who are still fighting, those who have seemingly won and those who feel that their war is almost done.  And I'm moved to have been a part of that, in some small way.

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