Thirty-eight years ago, my family went to the Festival of Trees for the first time. It was 1975. Over the years, attending the Festival of Trees became a fun tradition. The Festival of Trees was our family’s kick-off to the Christmas season as our five children enjoyed the beautiful trees, music, scones, and of course, Santa. It wasn’t until 1990 that I came to truly understand what the Festival of Trees is all about when our only daughter, Nicole, asked a simple question. “Can we do a tree next year to help the sick children at the hospital?” The question took me by surprise. You see, SHE was one of those sick children at Primary Children’s Hospital.
A few days before Nicole’s 9th birthday, I noticed a small lump at the base of her neck. A doctor removed it and after a quick biopsy told us that it was probably a lymphoma. Additional tests were to be done at Primary Children’s the next week, but before that could take place, Nicole began to have trouble breathing. Our introduction to Primary Children’s Hospital began as she was admitted May 4, 1989. We were informed that Nicole had massive tumors in her head, neck, and lungs. Days later, the tumors had a name, Rhabdomyosarcoma, a fairly rare cancer of the muscle and soft tissues. The feelings and fears that overwhelm a family at such news are indescribable. Each day brought new challenges and disappointments. Each day we were grateful for any small miracle.
As I look back, I wonder how we survived those days. I have come to realize that Primary Children’s Hospital played a part in making it a little more tolerable. From the first day, I knew that Nicole was being treated by caring and loving people. As we sat waiting for the results of the scans, Nicole’s nurse sat with her arm around me, comforting me, long after her shift had ended. Nicole spent many weeks and months at the hospital. The wonderful nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners, and staff became a part of our family. After a particularly painful procedure, Nicole threw her arms around the doctor’s legs and said “Thank you”. Surprised, he said, “Why do you thank me for hurting you?” She responded, “You only hurt me because you love me and want me to get better.” Nicole knew the people treating her loved her and cared for her. She told me many times the hospital was like another home.
Our family had come to appreciate Primary Children’s during our stays, so of course, I promised Nicole we would donate a tree the next year. Shortly after the new year began, my husband’s employment was terminated and the Festival of Trees became even more meaningful to our family. Many of Nicole’s huge medical expenses were covered by the generous donations from Festival of Trees. Nicole was excited as she looked forward to decorating a tree to help pay back a little of what we had received, but her health worsened until she passed away just a month before the Festival. I just didn’t think I could decorate a tree that year, but I vowed to keep my promise to Nicole. I decorated one tree.
That was in 1992. It was such a beautiful way to remember Nicole and to feel of her love for all. My family and friends and I decided to do another tree the next year. This year makes tree number 22. We have so much fun doing the trees, that we have added wreaths and then quilts. Next year’s tree is already in the planning stages.
Our family’s kick-off to Christmas is still the Festival of Trees, though it means more to me now than it did before Nicole’s illness. There is something special about the Festival of Trees. Not only does it relieve the added stress of financial concerns by providing much needed funds to struggling families, but it changes the lives of those who so generously give of their time, talents, and money. Our family has been touched both ways.
I’m so glad I kept that promise to Nicole.
Festival of Trees Photo Gallery:
Festival of Trees is December 4 – 7 at South Towne Expo Center, 9575 South State Street, from 10:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. Every penny raised through Festival of Trees goes to Primary Children’s Hospital.