As we move into the 15th year of KWF this month, you might think you know how it started. You don’t. Most people think it started with a phone call to hospice that day Karen died in July 2007. Not true. It started before that. Some people think it started when Karen said one day after chemo that it would be cool if our small family could go on a vacation each year and help send someone else in the chemo chairs next to her. That happened. But that was not the beginning. No, you have to go back further.
The spark that ignited the spirit of KWF started quietly with a lady named Marla Grote back in 1998. It was at the end of Karen’s first year of chemo when Marla invited Karen and our family to stay in her family vacation home in Sea Island, GA. Karen, without hesitation, said “Yes!” Schedules, work, and “To Do” lists be damned. It was a team effort between Marla and Karen. A cheerful giver reached out to a cheerful receiver. A classy lady who realized that the greatest thing she could do with her vacation home was share it with someone else. And a young mom who realized that she was not too big, too strong, or too proud to accept a break from cancer.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Marla was diagnosed with cancer the next year and died the year after that. Just like that. Here, then gone. The first paragraph of her obituary reads, “Marla Grote spread kindness and her homemade hot fudge sauce generously.” That’s for sure. Our family was lucky we crossed paths with Marla. I remember that first-year-of-cancer Sea Island vacation vividly. If I close my eyes, I can see our little 2 and 4 year old kids in goofy sun-hats shoveling sand on the beach. Relaxed adults with feet up and glasses of wine outside on the patio bordering the marsh. Family walks to the beach. Karen emerging from a spa down the road, following a torrential thunderstorm that sent us all scrambling, without her knowing anything had happened. Perfect. I don’t remember cancer on that vacation. I don’t even remember thinking about cancer on that vacation. Thanks Marla.
As things continue to open back up, KWF continues to search for the next Marla’s and Karen’s out there. They need to meet. Will you help us introduce them to each other? We’ve been so buttoned-down and bottled-up with Covid. We’re going to need some leaders out there to get off the sidelines and show us how to have fun again. How to take some chances. How to give first. How to receive without over-thinking. Like Marla and Karen. Blink and we’re gone. Like Marla and Karen. 9 million families in the United States have 2 or more homes. It’s time to open them up and fill them with the joy that bursts from the seeds of adversity. Like Marla and Karen.
You see, when a cheerful giver is matched with a cheerful receiver, it’s a beautiful thing. We focus so much on the negativity of the cancer diagnosis that we forget what is likely the reason God makes us face such adversity in the first place: so that our brothers and sisters can step-up to help. We hear it said all the time by KWF recipients: “Cancer brings out the best in others.” Yes. But only if we are bold enough to give generously. And bold enough to receive humbly and gratefully. Yes, it’s a beautiful thing. Like Marla and Karen. It's time.