Let me paint a picture for you. It was 2 am and another long night in the hospital. My sweet cancer fighter had been up sick every 30 minutes or so. That was how our life was at that time. I took a walk down the hall to the parent's room so I could shed some tears. I just needed to get out of the room for just a few minutes. I need time to regroup and take a breath so that I could get back in the fight with my little warrior.
The parent's room has a wall full of pamphlets. I walked past it day in and day out and never really paid it any attention. What could those pamphlets ever offer me? But this time I decided to look it over. I just needed a distraction from my reality. With my eyes so full of tears, I couldn’t even really read what any of them said, but there it was. Like a beacon in the night, a pamphlet that read “Lighthouse Family Retreats.” I immediately grabbed it and looked over it. I even took it with me back to my room.
The very next day, I looked Lighthouse up online. I read just about everything I could on the website. I decided to register my family, not knowing what it really was. I mean I heard great things within the cancer community; however, I still wasn’t entirely sure what it would be like. We were elbows deep in the middle of her second bone marrow transplant, so making any sort of plan seemed so out of reach. I wasn’t going to count on going or allow my family to get too excited. We live second to second. Childhood cancer doesn’t allow any planning. And I didn’t want any of us to get our hopes up only to be disappointed.
After filling out the application and submitting what was needed, I forgot all about it. Time passed, a lot of cancer fighting happened. But the following year, the stars aligned. It all worked out, so we could go see what “LFR” Lighthouse Family Retreats was really all about.
We blindly flew to Emerald Isle descriptively called the “Crystal Coast.” We were excited but also had no clue what to expect. Nothing could have prepared us for what an amazing week we had in store. Upon arrival, we were greeted with so much love! The family partners (or volunteers) were total strangers at first but turned into our forever family. They were so helpful and kind. The common ground leaders had so much love in their hearts. For the first time in a long time, we felt comfortable and safe. We literally didn’t have to lift a finger that week. The entire trip, the helpers never once faltered at meeting our every need with a smile, genuine love and compassionate care.
That’s the theme and heart of Lighthouse. You are met constantly with love, understanding, and the uttermost care. Faith and God’s love is so strong there. I can safely say my kids prefer Lighthouse to Disneyland (sorry, Mickey). There was so much fun to be had the entire time. Also, so much soul healing, restoring, and relaxing. That amazing week on the beach has changed our lives forever in many ways. We felt seen and we didn’t feel alone. As much as friends and family try to understand, they don’t understand the way a fellow cancer family does.
Childhood cancer is mean and unfair. However, from those ashes compassion for others is born. Friendships are born. I am so thankful that Lighthouse was created. It’s a beautiful place created for these fellow cancer families. Every cancer journey is different, but we share the same pain. We can also share the same strength in finding the good in the ashes. We can all turn to the Lighthouse for healing and love. I hate that childhood cancer happened to us and I hate that it happens to anyone. But I don’t hate what it has taught my family. Through watching our Adriana fight so hard we are forever changed. Our eyes are opened to the reality of childhood cancer. Our hearts are opened to every family in the fight. We pray for every child and family. We always will.
Adriana Aviles, our cancer warrior, is the reason we were led to Lighthouse Family Retreat. She has had to endure so much in her life. Yet, she met every challenge and obstacle with grace. She is the epitome of faith. We were thrown into the cancer world when she was four years old. Adriana is now 11 years old. She has fought very high-risk pre-B Cell ALL off and on. Her leukemia is stubborn and aggressive. She has had two bone marrow transplants, stage lll GVHD after second transplant, two rounds of CAR-t cell therapy, radiation, obliterating chemo, she has relapsed… I mean you name it - we have done it all. I try day in and day out to always see the light in the dark. We choose to smile and be happy. I would be lying if I said any of this is easy or tolerable. It’s incredibly hard to walk through. But with love in our hearts and knowing we aren’t in control of any of it, we hand it over to God.
Faith and love are ever healing. They are everlasting. It’s always a beacon in the night, like a lighthouse on the shore. When you are out to sea and the water is crashing down on your vessel, you feel you are drowning and alone. The lighthouse is there to guide you to shore. It’s there to help you feel safe, to heal, and rest from your long, hard journey. It is the same with Lighthouse Family Retreats. Whoever started or named the foundation couldn’t have picked a better name. Lighthouse - a safe place after the bumpy unpredictable waters. A guide to the shore and to safety. A beacon of light and faith. Come all no matter your journey or story. You are welcome here. You are loved here. You are safe here.
I am forever grateful to Lighthouse Family Retreats. Thank you to everyone that makes it possible for families like mine. Families who have weathered the hardest path. Families who desperately need their beacon in the night, their safety in the storm, their Lighthouse. For all the time served and donations given, thank you! Lighthouse changes lives, it’s changed mine forever.
“Come on down, come on over, come on into the Lighthouse.
Come on down, come on over, come on into the Lighthouse.
A place where God’s love shines, shines for everyone.
Laughing in the sun, playing in sand”
Article written by Jessy Aviles