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