A Thank You From the Bowman Family

We got back last night from our trip and have been on a high since! We had the most wonderful week we could have ever asked for. It was refreshing, rejuvenating, and full of joy. All 6 of us had such a great time. We cried saying goodbye and we were not ready to come back to reality. This trip took us away from our everyday worries and allowed us to let go, relax, and enjoy our family. I don't think we expected to experience such freedom while we were away and the normalcy it would bring to each of us to be out of our home environment without the stress of our life with "cancer". 

 

Thank you to everyone at AWA for allowing us to have this week together! We were able to do so many fun leisure activities and eat out at a restaurant everyday! We got ice cream and snacks, took a tour and saw dolphins, visited the USS Yorktown and a submarine, walked on the pier, rode waves and boogie boards at the beach, collected sea shells, and Kevin and I had a dinner date night while my parents stayed with the kids. The location was perfect and the house was in the heart of everything. We could walk to the beach (and see it while we sat on the front porch), walk to restaurants, and just had such a great time being together.  

 

This was the nicest vacation all of us have ever had and we are so thankful and blessed by AWA for providing us with a place to stay and providing us with additional funds to do anything we would like. The kids (and adults) had permanent smiles on their faces all week- and Natalie couldn't get enough of the ocean and "jumping over the waves."

 

We have wonderful memories of this week and we will talk about it forever. Thank you for including my parents. They have been here for us since Natalie was diagnosed and have walked with us each day. They are always on call for unexpected hospital visits, and have supported us in every way they can. My sister had non-hodgkins as a teenager, so this is my parents second time traveling this nightmare. I know they had the best week too and were so glad we were able to do this together.

 

Now that we are back, we have to get back into the swing of our every day "normal"  life. We will not forget what this week has done for us, the freedom we experienced, and what is to come when we can really be normal and feel like our life is what this vacation was. It was beautiful and joyful and full of smiles. It was happy and worry free. Thank you again for giving us this time to re-energize ourselves and get ready to conquer the next 6 months of treatment.

 

Our most sincere "Thank You"

Kristen, Kevin, Natalie, JT, Laura, and Allen

A Thank You From Susan Foulk

Please share with staff and donors how much we all enjoyed our week away in Ocean City, MD.  To be given that time to just relax and unwind was such a blessing - we all needed it. 

In the hustle and bustle of the everyday world, I have had to learn to slow down and "smell the roses" so to speak.  And do you know what - I have a beautiful bouquet.  The kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity shown to us deeply touches my heart.

Thank you just doesn't seem like enough but THANK YOU all.

Very Sincerely,

Susan

A Message From the Merchlinsky Family

Hey everyone!  This has been an incredible month so far for us. As many of you know we went on our Medical Respite trip to Ocean City Maryland, thanks to the A Week Away Foundation. We had so much fun! John got to crab, he got to build sand castles and he got to go into the ocean for the first time ever.  He even had some of our 28" Pizza from Pino's Pizza. This is exactly what John has needed for awhile, with his upcoming surgeries. He got to see the wild ponies at Assateauge as well as find shells (of which a horseshoe crab was one). He caught a crab, and he was there when I caught a horseshoe crab in my collapsible crab trap (a live one no less). The thing that I think was the best for us, was the fact that John was able to be himself, and while he did get his infusion while we were there, we really didn't have to worry about doctors for at least that week. But now that we are home, it is back to immunology, ENT, etc.  The people down there were so friendly, so helpful, it was such a great environment.  If I forget anyone I apologize but I want to thank Pino's Pizza (Jim Hofman), Delmarva Shorebirds (players and General Manager Chris Bitters) and A Week Away.  Again, if I forgot someone I apologize, but know that all of you have made John's trip very special.  It may have been a week, but for him, it seemed like forever to our little boy. Thank you everyone for your prayers, good vibes or just thinking of us, it is very much appreciated.  Thank you! 

A Message from Cassandra Evans

 

Hello Everyone,

We made it back home safely.  It was a beautiful week and I believe healing in many ways.  We are recharged to begin our fight and not a moment too soon; we received a call while at the beach letting us know that Eric's outpatient port placement has been scheduled for next week, his veins are just traumatized from the treatments so the port will make it more comfortable for him.  Then we are off to dental and endocrinologist appointments the week after and a brain MRI following.  By God's grace we are claiming clear scans on March 15.  Eric is so much more relaxed since we were blessed with the vacation from A Week Away.  They are beautiful people who care so much.  The beach was cleansing and healing. 

A Message From Heidi Gifford

Williamsburg is beautiful!  I am so blessed!  These were the first things that went through my mind when we reached our final destination on Sunday, October 18th of this year.  I had been given a gift by A Week Away for a vacation in Williamsburg, VA.  The trip ended on the one year anniversary of my diagnosis of cancer.  Since that time I have had two major surgeries and am still undergoing chemotherapy treatment.  It has been a very unusual year but I am surrounded by love, prayer, family and friends and am making it through.  This past year has been quite the adventure and it was nice to take a week to sit back and regroup.

My friend, Trish has been my best friend since college and has been a big support to me throughout this merry-go ride.  Trish and I vacation together every year but realized in May that getting away might not happen since financially I was in a very different place this year and could I swing it with work, too?  She suggested checking if A Week Away would support me for a getaway.  We were delighted when they accepted me and of course, the first person I thought of to go on vacation with was Trish.  Once AWA accepted me, all the pieces fell so easily into place.

Getting ready for vacation was also part of the fun.  We made lists for: outfits, restaurants, tours, towns to visit, foods to eat, and relaxation time.  There were texts and emails and laughter and excitement.  We met with Marie with AWA and Ruth with Premiere Comm who finalized our plans and raised our excitement even higher. 

We arrived in Williamsburg on Sunday and had a blast sleeping in, waking slowly with a cup of coffee, and being quite lazy.  Each morning may have been my favorite part of the day.  Trish and I explored Williamsburg, the historical sites and the local shops.  We experienced high quality meals in restaurants that were restored from our history.  Each of our suppers were in the dark with just a lantern to light each table.  It was humbling to look back at history and realized how blessed we are now a days but exciting to see where it all started from. 

The week came to an end way too soon.  It was refreshing just being away but even more so to be away with a friend.  Thank you so much AWA for sponsoring me for such a delightful treat.  You refreshed me and set me back on my feet again.

A Message from Jessica Jack

My family has been traveling to Carova Beach at the end of our summers, with a group of friends and family that we hold dear, for more than a decade. This place is my beautiful escape and my serenity.

Last year on this vacation, I was halfway through chemotherapy, my sister was preparing to start proton radiation the following week and Teddy, a four year old, who 2 years earlier had been building sandcastles side by side with my daughter, was in a very touch and go battle of his own against a rare brain cancer and sadly could not be that far away from a children's hospital. That’s right -- 3 out of a group that was never larger than 18 were battling cancer.

Last year, our group was small and while we soaked in the sun, we were quieter than normal and just a bit reserved as we all tried to climb out of our heads.

This year, A Week Away blessed us with a trip of celebration, an opportunity to breathe and to smile because ALL 3 of us have beat cancer and are working to put it behind us.

While I was excited for this opportunity, I was over the moon excited to spend some time with the Teddy and his family.  I wanted this vacation to be absolutely P.E.R.F.E.C.T. for them. During my battle with cancer, my heart broke for my dear friends because while I only had to fight back against cancer they had to watch, sometimes helplessly and sometimes with the ferocity of a grizzly bear, as their toddler son fought the fight.  Even now, just typing a sentence, about a child having to fight for their life against cancer brings tears to my eyes. I simply cannot imagine anything more devastating.  

Additionally, while Teddy battled cancer, his parents were also raising their infant son Ben. I don't know how they did it.  I thought my journey was hard, watching my sister's journey was even harder, and when I thought about them and how hard their typical Wednesday was, my heart broke. Despite their own heartbreaking journey, it was Doug and Ambriel, who were often the ones offering me encouragement.  They are the kind of human beings that I want to clone and pass out like candy to everyone I know, firmly believing that everyone should have a Doug and Ambriel, in their lives.  They deserved a week away more than anyone I have ever met.

The week turned out amazing, for it was filled with those tiny moments of perfection that fill your heart with love until you feel like you may explode. I held my daughter tightly in my arms, breathing her in, as we watched the sunrise together. I watched Teddy and Logan in the waves, together with the amazing men that are their fathers.  I sat in the dunes, chatting with my sisters as the sun set behind us and the voices of truly happy children filled the air.  

We swam, we took walks on the beach, we build sand volcanoes and we read books, lots of books.  When it was time to say good bye, tears sprang to our eyes.  As grateful as I was for this opportunity for a week away with my family, I was absolutely honored to be a part of this week away for Teddy and his family and I will cherish the beautiful memories we made, for all of my life.

"At a time when we don’t really see many miraculous things.  Maybe we do.  Maybe they are all around us everyday, we just don’t know where to look." - E.B. White, "Charlotte's Web"

- Jessica Jack

A Message from Ambriel Renn-Scanlan

In October of 2013 Teddy was a normal 2.5 year old, drop kicking soccer balls, learning his ABCs, and excited to spend time with his 1 month old little brother.  An onset of vomiting prompted a trip to the pediatrician where Teddy's conditioned worsened.  After being sent to the local children's hospital by ambulance, he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor.  After 6 weeks of proton radiation at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, multiple serious infections, a year of chemotherapy, and a small stroke, Teddy is current No Evidence of Disease.  With a lot of hard work and support, Teddy is relearning to use his left hand and walk.  He loves to read books, play with his (almost 2 year old brother), practice walking, and playing with friends. 

Teddy loves the ocean.  It is his favorite place, followed fairly closely by the train station, zoo, our local farm, and his own cozy corner of the couch with a Super Why on. And while we work regularly to bring Ted to his favorite spots, the ocean is trickier, obviously.   Before Teddy was born Doug and I spent a week every few summers with friends in the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  Three years ago we took Teddy for the first time where we stayed on a beach with no paved roads but herds of wild horses.  We skipped two years ago because I was VERY pregnant with Ben and last year we were in the deadly throes of treatment.  

But this year was different, for many reasons. A little over a year ago our buddy Jessica Jack (our beer drinking, book reading, vacation coordinating buddy) was diagnosed with colon cancer.  Six weeks later her sister, and our friend, Erica received a cancer diagnosis too.  Our families have kept in close touch through everyone's treatments (surgery and chemo for Jess, and surgery and radiation for Erica, and all of the above for Ted).  

Jess and Erica are the carpe diem type.  Spit fires.  Doers.  The, "so, you're telling me no, but I think we can work something out"-sorts.  And, last year, they begged and cajoled their docs into letting them take a little time at the ocean while they were on treatment.  And they did.  But, while I haven't been on treatment myself, I know from having carried my toddler through its bowels, that even good and bright and happy things lose their shine when your insides are exploding from exhaustion and pain.  
So, this year we thought, let's all go.  Let's go together.  Because we all finally feel sort of not terrible.  Because we are all living MRI to MRI or Pet Scan to Pet Scan. Because we can. 

Let's go together.  Again.  Like old times.  But with more kids and less cancer.  

In stepped A Week Away, an organization founded by a Caleb, a friend of Erica's, who lived a full and joyous life, until he died of brain cancer in late 2014.  A Week Away provided us with an amazing beach house to allow for a joyous No Evidence of Disease reunion of family and friends.  We will NEVER be able to thank A Week Away for their kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness (the house had an elevator, which allowed Teddy in his wheelchair, to be included in everything).  

Our screensaver on our TV runs through a montage of pictures from three years ago of Teddy and Jess's daughter playing in the sand and jumping in the water.  Every day for three years (when not in the hospital) Teddy has looked at those pictures and remembered the beach.  And, it was a total and complete joy (with a touch of sadness) to bring him back there.  To see the wild horses.  To play in the waves.  To "run" on the beach with the kids (Teddy asking to go faster in faster in the jogging stroller).  To pretend to be a "splash monster" and splash and play with the other kids in the pool.  Our friends and their kids treated Teddy like the sweet smart 4 year old he is, not just as a cancer patient.  And, our friends did us one better.  They handled coordinating transporting Teddy's special therapy supplies to the beach, cooked all the meals, and gave us the run of the third floor for our nap needing kiddos.  

Caleb said, "When you get away, you feel normal."  And we did.  We felt gloriously normal.  A Week Away and our friends gave us that.  And, we will forever be grateful.

- Ambriel Renn-Scanlan

A Message from Erica Lehman

Our "A Week Away"

I've thought about Caleb everyday that we've been down here at the Outer Banks. You see, not only is Caleb the life force behind this incredible gift we are experiencing, but he was also my friend.

I saw Caleb about a week before he passed away. I was on my way to catch my train down to Philadelphia for another daily radiation treatment, and Caleb was having one of his classic breakfast meetings, putting all the pieces of his dream together. He told me that he was excited to celebrate my last day of radiation, which was just a few treatments away. I noticed a slight stumble in his gait, but on my way out the door, we still gave each other a big hug, and our last words as friends were, "I love you". We did celebrate together, in spirit. My last day of radiation was his birthday, the day of his memorial service.

I knew Caleb wanted our family to have a trip. My sister and I were both diagnosed with cancer 7 weeks apart. She got surgery and chemo, I got surgery and radiation, and together we forged this very unusual but intensely strong journey through what was very uncertain times. Caleb cheered us on the whole way through. He was adamant that some day our family would be able to leave it all behind, and have a week to just be together. No cancer stuff, no treatment stuff, no bills, no worries.

So Saturday, we barreled down 95, meeting up with some of our closest friends, and drove our way down a sandy beach in 4x4s to a beautiful beach house set behind the dunes of Cordova, NC.

My sister and I had originally filled out the A Week Away applications with hopes that our friend Teddy and his family would be able to join us. Teddy is four and has spent the last two years of his life battling brain cancer.  His parents are some of our oldest friends, and our cancer connection turned into emails and calls of camaraderie and support. Along with two other families who have also been steadfast supports, we landed here with 10 adults, 8 kids, and 2 dogs.

So far, this week has proven to become exactly what Caleb's dream was all about. Family, friends, rest, and healing, and we all have much to celebrate. In January, Teddy was declared NED (no evidence of disease)! My sister followed suit in February, and I got my all clear in March! Still, we've all quickly learned that cancer doesn't just end. There is constant testing, and therapy, and other doctors checking to make sure cancer doesn't sneak up some where else. All though our battle is seemingly over, we still fight every single day. Nothing is the way it was, we're just operating in a "new normal."

Since the moment we got here the house has been filled with the shrieks of kids water balloon fighting and jumping in the pool, laughter of the adults reminiscing of our days growing up together, and lots (and lots) of food. I love seeing Teddy (who suffered a stroke) being held by his parents in the ocean, letting waves wash over them. I love seeing my niece run around trying to keep up with the big kids, and I love the Scrabble game that I'm about to go beat my sister at.

So I sit here on this beautiful balcony, listening to children laughing and hearing the ocean move, and the thought of Caleb bring tears to my eyes. It's a heart crushing kind of gratitude that I have towards Caleb and the entire A Week Away team. Cancer is a far away place this week. For now there is just sunshine, and sand castles, and (did I mention?) a lot of food!

There are no other people that provide this kind of respite to people working through the unimaginable. The kind of peace that A Week Away gives to families is irreplaceable, and I am not only proud to be a part of Caleb's dream, I am deeply humbled by it. I know I speak for all of us down here in North Carolina when I say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

- Erica Lehman

A Message From the Lynch Family

A Week Away has been a gift to us in so many ways.  We had the amazing opportunity to meet Caleb just days before his passing.  He immediately clicked with our daughter Olivia in a way that left us in awe.  And to learn so much about his dream...to gift families "A Week Away" just like a friend did for him while he was sick...wow, what a gift to give to others.

For us, this gift came after a year of learning that myself, our daughter Olivia, (4 at the time) and our son Liam (2 at the time) all carry a genetic mutation that makes our bodies more prone to tumors in general.  I previous had melanoma and thyroid cancer, so although it wasn't a complete surprise to me that I carry this mutation, I was devastated that 2 out of our 3 children carry it.  Thankfully our oldest daughter Grace (6 at the time) did not carry this mutation.

A few short months after finding out this news and learning all about the preventative care that we were now eligible for, Olivia's eye began to turn in as though she was crossing her eyes.  Long story short, we learned that Olivia had an aggressive brain tumor.  Our lives were turned upside down.  Surgery was immediate, and within 2 weeks the cancer had spread throughout her brain and began to spread down her spine.  That's how aggressive this cancer was.  She had to start intense chemo immediately.  So following 6 intense rounds of chemo, then 30+ days of traveling from Lancaster to Philadelphia daily for Proton Radiation Therapy, she began several months of maintenance chemo before learning that a new tumor appeared.  She was eligible for a clinical trial at St. Jude's, which only lasted 2 rounds of meds before the tumor doubled in size, which led to surgery yet again.  In the meantime, I (Olivia's mother) was diagnosed with an abdominal sarcoma that fall...and then early stage breast cancer in February.  Both were thankfully treated with surgery and did not require treatment.  However, it goes without saying that this has been a challenging year for our entire family.

A Week Away was by our side as soon as they learned about our family.  They were eager to send us on our "week away", and we just returned from an absolutely amazing week in Stone Harbor, NJ.  This has been a place that I grew up vacationing with my dad who is no longer with us, so it is near and dear to my heart.  To be able to get away for 1 week and not think about anything medical...it was a gift that our family will never forget.  Olivia (now 5 years old) was able to play in the sand and jump the waves of the ocean just like she did before this journey began.  It was refreshing.  And as her mother, words could not possibly express the pure gratitude I continue to hold for A Week Away and for every single person working tirelessly to create normalcy for 1 week for families just like ours.  And without the amazing donors, these weeks wouldn't be possible.

Just as A Week Away has been behind us on our journey, Paul and I have their backs as well.  Thank you A Week Away.  Thank you for this gift that is bringing smiles, joy, and gratitude to families going through a very difficult chapter in their lives.

So What's New?

So, what does AWA have going on?

This is a question we are asked quite frequently and the simple answer is, a lot!  Speaking on behalf of the Board of Directors, we knew 2015 was going to start with transitions, challenges and opportunities.  What we didn’t know was the level of support we would receive from friends, businesses, volunteers, and organizations that truly believe and support our mission.  The amount of fundraisers, donations, and events held not only by AWA but on our behalf has enabled us the financial opportunity to help so many more families than we anticipated for this year.  Our goal was to provide 10 respites for 2015.  To date, we have 10 respites completed/planned and the applications keep coming in!  We are so fortunate to be in a position to give these patients and their caregivers a time of peace and hope during a very stressful time in their lives.

I’ve never fully understood the phrase “it takes a village” until this past year.  AWA is run completely by volunteers and this enables every penny we raise to support our mission.  This is something we are extremely proud to tell our donors.  AWA has a small army of volunteers that help us create and staff events, attend meetings, work with families during respite planning, fundraise, etc.  There are a ton of phone calls, emails and meetings that happen behind the scenes each week that makes us go.  Team AWA is comprised of a varied group of individuals who work together to positively affect those in need.

So, what has AWA been up to this year?  The launch of our new website will hopefully give you a glimpse into our world.  Check out our News and Events section for highlights from our events like our benefit concert at Tellus 360 and Bike Towards the Cure.  Our Upcoming Events section will keep updated on what we have up our sleeves and where you can find us in the community.  Browse the Photo Gallery section to see pictures of our events and the families we serve.  You will see what hard work, dedicated volunteers, and your support can do for people battling life threatening illnesses.  

Thank you for your support and keep checking back to see what we’re up to!

Marie McCune