NYC, Part 2: Just being there

The second mission of our New York City trip, and the one that inspired the trip initially, was to pay a visit to our friends. For a little background, Marv and Linda lived in South Bend and were church friends of ours for many years. Their son Morgan is age-wise right between our two boys, and all four of their children are very smart, talented and unique individuals. As a family, they have always held a special place in our hearts and Linda and I have spent countless hours chatting about our lives and our kids. Our family was so sad to see them move to Corning, New York for a new job for Marv last November (2013), but excited for them and the new adventure they were embarking on. Little did we know... This family's adventure took a very scary and life-changing twist on October 26 (2014), when a mass was found on Morgan's abdomen that was later diagnosed as a rare and threatening sarcoma. To make a long, complicated story short and much simpler than reality, Morgan and his young wife Christina quit their jobs, moved their things to Corning, and have taken up residence over the majority of the past eight weeks in the Ronald McDonald House in NYC, just five blocks from Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center. Morgan has been receiving chemo to shrink his tumors as well as other medical interventions as needed to deal with the complications of tumors and chemo.

We had been getting almost daily updates on Morgan's treatment, and something in me just wanted to be there in person, to better understand what they were all going through. While Facebook, Caring Bridge and texting are great modern-day communication tools, they are no substitute for just being there. To hug and talk and laugh together are what memories are made of. Thus, the trip to NYC was planned.

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We arrived at about 10:30 at night, and after checking our car in to a parking "elevator" and checking ourselves into our room, we met up with Marv and Linda (they also had a room at the same hotel that night). After hugs all around, we hit the city that never sleeps. At nearly midnight, things were as lively as ever on Times Square. Somewhat dazed by all the lights and electronic screens around us, we sought out a dimly lit Mexican restaurant, where we enjoyed a late-night snack and good conversation.

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The next day (after our Today Show visit) we made our way over to the Ronald McDonald house. Although it would have been a nice walk, we took a cab so we could deliver the HUGE care package sent by members of our church back home in South Bend. It consisted of a large box full of gifts and cards, two smaller boxes, a wrapped picture and a Styrofoam cooler full of goodies. We dropped off "the goods" and made our way down to MSKCC, where Morgan was just finishing up some treatments. It was great to see Morgan and Christina, and they were very happy to get an early release from the hospital with orders to return on Tuesday...four days off! We were also greeted by Morgan's older sister Korynne, who was visiting from Nebraska. We had a quick tour around the peds unit where we saw kids hooked up to tubes and IV's and occasionally heard some younger ones crying in response to who-knows-what kind of medical intervention. I wouldn't call it a happy place. But with the colorful artwork, the bright sky lights, and the cheerful staff, it really wasn't a sad place either. More like a hopeful place.

We all walked back to the Ronald McDonald house and had a look around. The guest rooms on the upper floors, are much like a large hotel room. On the 2nd floor, the kitchens with separate pantry, fridge and freezer space for each family were great, and the dining room (where meals are brought in for families daily) was also nice. On the main floor, families can gather in the large "living room" area, where there are five or six different areas for families to relax, complete with two baby grand pianos and a large fish tank. Downstairs there is a play room with toys for different ages, books, a craft corner, TVs and a computer room.

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The living room was a comfortable, homey place for us to sit while the church care package was opened. It was "like Christmas all over again" as they opened one gift after another: a handmade Bible verse wall hanging, a knitted prayer shawl, a Build-A-Bear, several soft t-shirts for Morgan, yarn for Christina, books for Linda, other gifts (hard to remember them all!), cookies and breads, gift cards and cash, and many, many cards and well-wishes. To deliver the package, and be the hands and feet of so many friends and fellow church members sending their love, was nothing but an honor and privilege.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon napping, playing games and walking to Chipotle for a late lunch. We arrived back at RMH in time to see their special guest, John O'Hurley. (For those not familiar, think Family Feud, National Dog Show, and Seinfeld guest star.) He brought with him his Dog Show co-host David Frei, and other volunteers brought four very well-behaved dogs. It was fun, especially for Christina who is a big fan! After saying good-bye to Marv and Morgan's younger sister Ariane (who were heading back to Corning Friday night), Tom and I left to see other sights of the city.

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I was so grateful to have more time on Saturday with Linda. We met up with her at the 9-11 Memorial Museum, near the new World Trade Center building. The two memorial fountains fill the space that is the footprints of the two fallen towers, and underground, below the fountains, are the north and south wings of the museum. The whole area is sacred ground, and walking through it gives one a chance to recall, as hard as it is, the events of that horrible day. The memorial and museums are a solemn tribute to those who lost their lives. As we walked through the timeline of events, we saw photos and artifacts that made that distant memory very real all over again. We spent four hours in the museum, and afterwards had a bite to eat in a new up-scale food court a couple blocks away.

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Sunday morning brought us all together one last time. We joined Linda, Morgan and Christina at Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Tim Keller's church) on the campus of Hunter College, near Central Park. It was so meaningful to worship, take communion, and receive the blessing together. We chatted over coffee after church, and said our good-byes, lingering over the last hugs.

Seeing Morgan feeling fairly well, and continuing a "good streak" of several days was comforting, and we were so thankful for his relief from pain and discomfort. Yet knowing there have been and will be bad days as well, and seeing how their lives have changed, made us realize how delicate life is, and how quickly things can change.

During our visit, Morgan and Christina were focusing on preparing for the expected drop in his immune system by buying the right foods and learning how to prepare them to prevent the possibility of unhealthy bacteria getting into his body. We saw them taking on every aspect of their new  cancer-fighting "jobs" seriously and meticulously. Through their brave fight, many of us have come to appreciate blessings we so often take for granted: health, family, and just "normal life." We pray that one day, these blessings will return to them.