Friday, February 5, 2010 -
Today, Oliver, Eden, Ed and I headed down to Iowa City for the Dance Marathon BIG event. Oliver had his regular radiation treatment and then we met with John, the social worker and Mary, in the Pediatric Oncology department to talk about what the future may hold. We talked about hospice, the hospital services, camp, medical needs, etc. We also met up with one of the Child Life gals, I think her name was Rachael, who was so sweet. Ollie and Eden played in the game area with some other kids that were staying in the hospital while we talked in private. So many people were wearing Dance Marathon t-shirts already! We were excited to check in at the Iowa Memorial Union where the event took place.
We checked in at the IMU and changed into our matching family t-shirts. We then went upstairs to the "Family Room" where there were tons of long tables set up and many different booths for the kids to play at. There was an inflatable for the kids to jump in, Karaoke, temporary tattoos, puzzle tables, dress up area, hair and make up area, dart guns and small kiddie pools filled with balls for the smaller kids. They also had hula hoops that Ollie and Eden loved shakin' around their hips! They had popcorn, cotton candy, smoothies and all sorts of sugary goodness available at all times! We had Olive Garden for dinner, a late night pizza party, pancakes for breakfast and tacos for lunch the next day! Can you tell I love food?!? During dinner families were chatting with one another and some of the dancers dressed up in character costumes. Each child was given Mickey Mouse ears and a homemade autograph book to have the characters sign. Ollie said he thought that Goofy was drunk since he passed him by at the table! HA! I love some of the things that kids come up with!!!
All of the dancers were gathering in the large ballroom downstairs while we ate and were directed on lining up. When we checked in we were given a colored notecard that matched how many years we had been involved with DM (Dance Marathon). They lined us up with the new Dance Marathoners being the first to enter the main ballroom. We walked down the hall and then the dancers made a path down the center of the room. They were all cheering as we were announced. They made you feel like a rock star as they were cheering and giving the kids high fives. I just started crying... go figure. It was extremely emotional for me. I was overcome with emotion seeing all of these young college kids get together and show such support for us... for our kids. It was very inspiring. When each family got to the stage, we gave our card to the emcee and she announced our name and that it was our first time at DM. After each card was read the crowd cheered as each family walked across the stage and appeared on the giant screens on either side of the stage. It was just amazing!!! Then, the dancing began!
The Iowa Memorial Union is the student union of the University of Iowa. They had many rooms that you could travel in and out of.
*The main ballroom with the dancers, stage, DJ, bands, decorated pillowcases for each of the kids was the main area of the event. This was also where the families would share their stories.
*The family room was where we sat to eat our meals and just hang out when we didn't want to dance. There were many activities for the kids to do while having some 'down time'.
*The Best Buy room had about 12 - 15 large TV's and game consoles set up for play the entire time. This was Oliver's favorite room no doubt! I played Family Feud with a group of girls and we were laughing so loud at some of the answers! We also played rock band which is always a blast to play! I even got a picture of Herky and Perky, the mascots of the U of I, playing some video games!!!
* The Teen room for teenagers to hang out.
*The Family Poster room was an area with posters made by the families with children battling cancer or who are in remission. People could come and read about the children and look at pictures.
*One of the most moving rooms was the "Dancing in Our Hearts" room. This room was upstairs away from the noise of the event. There were posters created by the families of their child who had lost their battle with cancer. Also in the room was a scrapbook of all the names of the children who had passed along with a water fountain and stones that you could add to the fountain along with your wish. I was moved to tears many times while reading the stories that were shared.
Throughout the event I wondered if this would be Oliver's only time attending DM with us. It was a very emotional time for me. I would be enjoying myself, dancing with Eden or watching Ollie play video games and then would break out in tears remembering why we were there. During the event, families would get up on stage and share their stories, sometimes paired with a slideshow of their child, living or passed. It encouraged and reminded the dancers why they were there dancing and raising money and awareness. I found myself feeling jealous of the people whose children were cancer free. I want to join in their celebration of beating the disease, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't going to be among those lucky enough to someday say that Oliver is cancer free and still living. It was definitely a bittersweet celebration.
The dancers were placed into groups and given several children to dance for. Some groups even made signs! Since Ollie was just diagnosed he didn't have a group, but someone did make a pillowcase for him to hang along the walls of the main ballroom. Each group had different colored shirts on. Throughout the year, some of the students keep in touch with the kids that they were representing. We should know soon what group will be 'dancing' for Oliver next year. Also, throughout the year they plan different fun activities and trips for the families struggling through this journey of childhood cancer. Last year they went to Lost Island water park in Waterloo, Adventureland amusement park near Des Moines, the Putnam Museum, Planet X arcade and mini golf in Cedar Rapids and a few other places. One of the things I want to focus on this year is making memories whether it's just in our home or going on mini trips and having fun with close friends and family. I'm grateful to have always done fun things throughout the years whether it's an all green dinner for St. Patrick's Day or a Salsa Party in the summer. I won't have regrets over not having fun with Oliver and I am grateful for that!
Eden LOVED dancing with all of the girls at the dance marathon! She was amazed that they wanted their pictures taken with her and wanted to dance with her! They would take her up on stage with them and just dance like crazy! It was so funny! A few times even Oliver came in to dance! It was sooooo funny to watch them all dancing! There was a new band called the Bamboo Shoots that came and played and Oliver and Eden were dancing front and center! It even made it into the DM slideshow at the end of the 24 hour event! The breakdancers also came and performed which Oliver LOVED watching!
We didn't make it to bed until one o'clock in the morning! We slept in a bit and then headed down for breakfast. We hitched a ride in the elevator with Herky and Perky, the University of Iowa mascots! I wish I had my camera on me! HA! We met up with my mom and brother, Chad a few hours later. They stayed for the rest of the day with us. Oliver had fun playing video games with Uncle Chad and Ed. My mom and even Chad came a danced for a while. Eden just loved learning some new line dances from some of the girls. Right after lunch we had a surprise when the Iowa athletes came to the family room. The women's tennis team and soccer team came and also the Iowa Hawkeye football team came and gave out posters from the Orange Bowl, that they had won, and signed it for everyone! Oliver even got to meet his favorite football player, Adrian Clayborn! He got his shirt signed and even sat on his lap for a photo op! He was very soft spoken and very sweet. When the guys left I talked to a few of them and told them how much we appreciated them taking time to come down. I told them that Oliver was just getting interested in football this year, thanks to his 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Galloway, I'm sure! He's a HUGE Hawkeye fan and has Hawkeye stuff EVERYWHERE in his classroom! :O) I too, was getting schooled by Ed this year about football. Whenever we'd watch games on TV I'd ask him about different plays and such and surprisingly was enjoying myself! Ollie and I watched the bowl game and Ollie said, "I hate those Georgia flapjacks!!!" WHAT?! Silly kid!
At 5 pm, they started "Power Hour" which was the final hour of dancing and they played high energy dancing music to help them stay energized! At the end of the hour several students lined up on the stage each holding a sign. They then would turn the signs over to show us all how much was raised at this year's event. They raised over $1, 058, 000!!!! Since dance marathon started there in 1994, they've raised over 8 million dollars to help with medical bills, gas, lodging, food and research! It was AMAZING!
At the end of the "Power Hour", all the dancers were able to be seated. We watched a slideshow of all the children who had passed -- the children who are "Dancing in our Hearts". They would show the photos along with snippets of songs that just made the whole room tear up! Oliver was sitting on my lap and asked if he would be in the video. I told him that he wouldn't be in it this year. Later I told him that it was in remembrance of the children who had passed away and he said to me, "Well. I won't be in it because I won't have cancer next year." He turned back around to view the remainder of the slideshow and I quietly cried and cried. I first thought of his innocence and how much faith that children have. Then my thoughts centered on what he said. He may not have cancer next year. He may be freed from his mortal body and the cancer that he is dealing with. I then cried harder. This may be the only year that he could be with us to dance and next year he may truly be 'dancing in our hearts'. He may be among those that have lost their earthly battle, but are rejoicing with Heavenly Father that they truly won their fight. I was reminded about the fact that this life is but a small moment in the grand scheme of things. I know it will be hard to live without him, but I need to grasp on and hold on tight to the knowledge that the gospel brings. Although times are going to be hard and I will truly be a different person having gone through these things, I am grateful for my testimony of living forever with those that we love. Ah... to live worthily to be able to do so is something that I will forever strive for. It really puts things into perspective.
After the slideshow of the children that are now with us in spirit, we watched a slideshow of this year's event. Oliver and Eden were in a video dancing on stage!!! I hope to get a copy of it somehow to be able to watch it for years to come! We then got into a large circle around the main ballroom while they played "Angels Among Us" by Alabama. Again... the tears started to flow. Then each group split up into smaller circles around the room for the final song. It was an AMAZING... A-M-A-Z-I-N-G... experience! THANK YOU to all those who participated!!!!!