They remind me in so many ways of each other. I often wonder how two little girls on two opposite sides of the world have so much in common. I stop myself most of the time, because like both of them, their stories are special and in no need of an explanation.
They are almost the same age—little Anastasia and our niece Antoinette. They are also way too smart for a seven-year-old and six-year-old respectively. But maybe that’s what happens when you grow up knowing things about the world way before you should.
Their eyes are piercing. Big, almond-shaped ovals that see beyond your face and touch your soul with a simple stare. They both like to swim, and they like to play sports. They love to read. And when the sun bounces off their wavy curls as they twirl around in circles like their favorite princesses, it flushes their cheeks in pale shades of rose and leaves a soft glow around everything they touch.
They are sassy. And inquisitive with the world. Their innocence is pure and white, even though tragedy clouds their beginning existence. But they don’t let that change things.
When Anastasia was diagnosed with Leukemia as a baby, her family was told by doctors to deal with it, giving them no help or medical treatment, no plan to save their baby girl. They were told to simply have another baby because Ana would not survive. When my brother was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, he and his wife were told by doctors they would never have children due to countless rounds of radiation, chemotherapy and brain surgeries my brother endured over the course of three years.
But as life often has a way of unfolding, both of these prognoses were not meant to be.
I got to see the banquet room before the guests arrived. It was one of the items on my list of worries keeping me up the night before the event. Our first event in Cape May County, our first event at home. It had to be perfect.
When I opened the double doors my breath hitched at the sight of the view before me. The room was warm, the lights dimmed down to a glow, hues of soft blue accenting the walls, illuminating the wine glasses perfectly placed atop the linens in a sea of powder sky. The place settings were arranged for a three course dinner. The buffet line working as sweet aromas of sautéed olive oil and baking vegetables filled the room, the stage in the front aglow with spotlights as the waves crashed upon the beach in the background from the view of our seats.
When I stepped back into the cocktail hour area, black figures swarmed all around me, moving hastily and putting the final touches on the night. Auction items lined each side of the hallway. Two bars dotted the back corners. Champagne glasses were poured and waiting. And before we knew it, the guests arrived.
It hit me as the night came to a close and people started lining up to say their good-byes to Matt and me. Yes, the night was a success. So much thought and planning went into making sure every last little detail was carefully executed. Yes, there were tons of great items up for grabs, endless gourmet food and desserts to inhale and an all-night open bar to quench the thirsts. There was live entertainment and dancing. There was cheer. There was laughter. There was joy.
But I saw the look in their eyes as they shook our hands and gave us hugs. I saw the hurt, the pain behind so many of their expressions. I heard their thank you’s and I felt their gratitude. An event filled with almost 400 people—guests, sponsors, volunteers, foundation members, committee members–and they all showed up. They all dedicated their time, their energy into making this night a smashing success for a cause so near and dear to our hearts. And that’s when it hit me.
It was near and dear to their hearts too. So many people, so many personal connections to someone who they love battling cancer in one form or another. So many people touched by this horrific disease, this heart break, this tragedy. So many lives of loved ones lost. We are all connected in that way.
But they all still had hope, just like Matt and I had hope. Just like Anastasia and her family had hope, and my brother and his wife had hope. Hope to make a difference. Hope to make things better. Hope for answers. Hope for survival. Hope for a future for our friends in need of support and prayers.
The 2nd Annual Szcz The Day Benefit was more successful than Matt and I could have ever imagined. The outpouring of love, support and generosity from our home and our community was overwhelming, and we wanted to thank each and every one of you who helped make it such a special, happy night.
And above all, thank you all for believing. Thank you all for fighting. Thank you all for hoping. Cheers!
Natalie & Matt