As I sit in the airport in Honolulu, I’m struggling to find the words to summarize our time here in Hawaii. Everything about our time here felt so important and like it was supposed to happen. This trip was not planned. It came together in about 5 days. Even though it was thrown together and so last-minute, it felt right.
Lighthouse was never meant to be an Arizona-only nonprofit. Arizona is our home and where I was treated for my cancer, so it will always be our primary focus. However, after seeing the impact that we can make and have made - I know it can be bigger. This trip has made that even more true.
The night before I received the email from Hospice Hawaii, I had a dream about Hawaii. I had never been before, but it was on my mind a lot. I dreamt we were in Hawaii, for Lighthouse, and that afternoon texted my friend jokingly saying we should hop on a plane. Then I received the email about Frank and immediately felt connected to it. Normally, Lighthouse doesn’t fundraise specifically for one family. It was not planned with Frank, but just happened naturally. I posted his story and immediately was flooded with messages and donations. In 2 weeks we raised $2,000 for this family.
Frank is a 17-year-old from American Samoa. He traveled to Hawaii for treatment in 2016 where he has been receiving palliative care for an aggressive form of Nasopharyngeal Neoplasm. His parents and younger siblings recently joined him in Hawaii to support Frank in his battle against cancer and to spend as much time with Frank as possible as his cancer is now terminal.
Frank's family has a very limited income. They live together with his aunt in a 2 bedroom apartment with no car. The most difficult thing for Frank and his parents have been traveling to and from American Samoa and not being together when Frank needed treatment. Lighthouse helped fly his older sister, Mary, to Hawaii to be with him and say goodbye.
After seeing all that our supporters had done for this family and how many people were invested in this story, I decided to see what it would take for us to hand-deliver all that was raised. Thanks to the generosity of many people, Lighthouse was able to fly to Oahu to meet Frank and his family. *Update: We just wanted to clarify once again that absolutely none of your donations funded this trip. 100% of donations went directly to Frank and his family. Everything that you saw from this trip on our social media, including the places we stayed and the car we drove, were donated by the generous people of Oahu. Everything else in between that was not donated, was not funded by Lighthouse.*
Through VRBO, we contacted Beachfront Villas Hawaii, who donated a beautiful house for us to stay in the first 3 days of our trip. It was such a gift to be able to come back to this peaceful place at the end of our days. For the last few days of our trip, the wonderful staff at Hyatt Place Waikiki provided us with a room. We also were provided a car by Lucky Owl Rentals for the entirety of our stay.
When the time came for us to meet Frank, we were filled with so many mixed emotions. We arrived on Monday and were meeting them Tuesday morning, so we had some time to go shopping for them and to prepare. In addition to the monetary donations, we went to Target to buy some household essentials for them including toilet paper, laundry soap, towels, dish soap, body wash, etc.
On Tuesday morning, we arrived to their home in Honolulu where we met a representative from Hospice Hawaii and Sunny, a local photographer who came to capture our time with Frank. Walking in, there was a heaviness that filled the room. There is a difference in cultures, and English is their second language. Once we got settled and everyone became a little more comfortable, we were able to hear their story and to spend about an hour together.
They live in a small 2 bedroom apartment, where Frank sleeps in one room and the rest of the family sleeps in the other. The 11 of us gathered in Franks bedroom, amongst the hospital bed and oxygen tank. I shared with them a little history about Lighthouse For Hope and why I started it. When I told them how many people had donated and heard their story, their eyes filled with tears and they were so humbled.
Franks dad, Shute, told us how they came to know that Frank was sick. It was an honor to hear their story. My mom was able to be there with us and she bonded with Franks mom about how hard it is being a parent of a child with cancer. There was not a dry eye in the room.
That hour we spent together in their home, was something that we will never forget. It's something that we all know was so special and almost sacred. His parents pain and feeling of helplessness adds to the difficulty of being away from home and unable to work. His siblings are away from their normal routine and friends, knowing their brother doesn't have much time left. For them to allow us into their home and accept charity, shows how brave they are. It's an honor that we will cherish forever.
When thinking back on these past few weeks, one word comes to mind - whirlwind. In the two short years Lighthouse has existed, I sometimes forget how much we have been able to accomplish. In Hawaii, after meeting this family, I couldn't help but think that this is only the beginning. The impact we make in these families lives, big or small, matters. I am leaving this trip with a fresh perspective and drive to continue to help those from all over experiencing pediatric cancer and all that comes with it.
Be a light!