I couldn’t pay too much attention to their words, or I’d cry. And the mistress of ceremonies shouldn’t cry, right? Not when she has to get up in front of 150 people and persuade them to give money to a good cause, kids with cancer.
But first, I’d stand next to two remarkable boys, Matt, 14, and Danny, 17, who spoke about losing their beloved stepfather to cancer a few years ago. That’s when they and their mom, Patti, became involved with sharingVillage, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping survivors of life-altering diseases and their families.
On this night — last Saturday night — they were helping to raise money for the organization’s pediatric equestrian driving program, which is sponsored by the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Roughly twice a week from April through November, the program transports kids with cancer and other diseases from homes and hospitals in New Jersey’s inner cities to stables in horse country, where miniature horses help them forget their troubles.
Despite a snowstorm that night that put our car into a ditch three times (thanks to Hubby for getting us out), we made it to the Villa in Mountain Lakes which is owned byRobert Frungillo of TLC’s hit reality show, “Masters of Reception.” There, the fabulous Kristian Rex and the Holiday Express Orchestra entertained the crowd. I took the mic as mistress of ceremonies, which sounds like it should involve a feather headdress and pyrotechnics, but it was just me in my favorite blue dress, a cancer survivor trying to pay it forward.
The event was filled with generous folks from the Garden State who were listening to Matt’s and Danny’s speeches, applauding in particular Matt’s gesture to forgo his holiday gifts this year and donate the money to sharingVillage. I didn’t have to step in and finish their speeches, though I stood nearby just in case they couldn’t do it. When they reached the end of their touching tributes to their stepdad, we all let out a deep breath.
It was then, while the heart-tugging video of the kids from the program was playing, that it hit me: Matt and Danny could have been my kids. I pictured my boys in a few years, giving a speech about their mother, lost to cancer, and tears welled up in my eyes. My friend Dawn, a sharingVillage volunteer, put her arm around me.
The program’s children are remarkable indeed; they are dealing with brain tumors, leukemia, lymphoma, AIDS. It was an honor to meet them and to try to help them. But Matt and Danny are pretty amazing, too, because they were able to take such pain at such young ages and turn it into something that helps other people. If there’s an upside to cancer, Matt and Danny are it — two extraordinary boys who endured an unthinkable heartbreak that was anything but ordinary to help people who need it the most.
Shelley Zlotkin, found of sharingVillage, explained to me the philosophy of her organization. It’s “wounded healers” helping others. That’s what I was trying to be that night, and what Matt and Danny so obviously are every day of their lives. I can only hope that my own boys will be able to take their own pain and heartbreak and be the wonderful wounded healers that Matt and Danny are today.