Many people have been touched by breast cancer in one way or another. Whether that be a very personal struggle or the diagnosis of a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance – most of us at one time have unfortunately felt the impact of this life-threatening illness.
This past Memorial Day weekend I had the honor to be a part of an amazing home make over event in support of a friend who is struggling with an advanced and very rare form of breast cancer. Her name is Priscilla and she is a young, beautiful wife and mother of 2 small children. Cilla (as we loving call her) has been dealing with this illness for over 2 years.
(left to right: Husband Matt, son Josh, daughter Moira, and Priscilla)
In addition to the illness, Cilla and her family are part of a very special community – the Deaf Community. Dealing with breast cancer is difficult enough, but being deaf while trying to navigate a mostly hearing medical community makes it that much more of a struggle. But Cilla is a uniquely strong person. She’s not one that gives up and never lets adversity deter her. So although Cilla has many challenges, people that know her and even those that have only met her briefly are inspired by her positive attitude.
During the past few years, and even before while Cilla’s husband Matt dealt with some health issues of his own, maintaining the family home became difficult for obvious reasons and needed many repairs. Friends and family knew they needed help and that Cilla needed a refreshed environment in which she could take comfort in while recuperating from chemo. So, while Cilla and Matt went away for a long weekend an incredible community rallied together in support as they were determined to make over their entire home as a surprise present to the couple.
Andy (Ellie Mae's Dad) who owns a home improvement business, spearheaded the effort as Project Manager along with Tara, who is a close friend of Cilla. People from all over the deaf community volunteered to help out as well as neighbors, family, friends, school employees, co-workers, and even strangers who didn’t know the family personally but wanted to make a difference in their lives and help out. Andy was able to assemble a small army of contractors who volunteered their services which included a plumber, electrician, plasterers, carpenters, and landscapers.
And you’ll be amazed to know that these beautiful acts of kindness unfolded quietly and lovingly without the fanfare of the media or bright lights. All of it occurred by word of mouth and was organized at a very personal level. Over 50 people volunteered their time over a 6 day period. People worked from sunrise until well after midnight each day. Cilla’s brother Dave and sister Pauline put in really incredible hours.
For me it was an unforgettable experience that has left an indelible imprint on me. You see most people who volunteered were deaf themselves, and for me who is able to hear, I was amazed at how quietly all of the work took place. For there was no background music blaring as people worked or any chattering that one would normally hear (after all sign language is mostly silent) – instead it was quiet outside of the hammering and sawing that occurred. I often paused to make note of the silence and wondered if this is a small taste of what it is like to be deaf -- of course, it’s not even close.
I know Cilla and Matt through Andy (Ellie Mae’s Dad). Andy is profoundly deaf himself, but was raised in the hearing world by hearing parents. He reads lips perfectly and speaks incredibly well so I never had to learn sign language myself since we communicate with each other as though he is hearing. But over Memorial Weekend I was one of the few people that volunteered who could hear and didn’t know sign language. As I struggled to communicate with some people it made me think what it must be like to communicate differently and what it must be like for Cilla and Matt as they struggle to understand some people in the medical community as well as to be understood. It made me reflect on my own problems and how truly insignificant they all are.
But, the most touching moment of the weekend came from this man.
This is Cilla’s Dad and I have a heart-warming story to share with you about him. You see one night as we were cleaning up to go home Cilla’s father came back to the house (he’d been there every day so we were surprised to see him again when we thought he’d gone home for the night). It was well after midnight but Cilla’s Dad couldn’t sleep and he had to come back. He had to do something more to help his daughter – something personal in his own quiet way. He didn’t think he’d find us still there at the house. His intent was to be there alone and to paint a room that Cilla often recovers in. He wanted to do this himself as his own personal tribute to her. A father’s love for a child is incredibly strong even if that child is an adult herself. Andy and I were touched by this act of love. Tears streamed down our faces. We hugged him and softly kissed his cheek. He cried with us too. He held our hands ever so tight and thanked us. We wanted to stay to help him but he didn’t want us to stay. He needed to do this for Cilla himself. So, we left that night too emotional to even speak to each other on the way home. We couldn’t sleep ourselves that night. There were far more important things to do than sleep.
On Tuesday night we celebrated.
Cilla and Matt arrived home from a Key West vacation to see their home completely redone. New floors, new paint, new doors, new fixtures, new bathroom, new landscaping – almost everything was refreshed. When Cilla got out of the car she tightly hugged her children Josh and Moira and then looked up to see new landscaping and a garden in her front yard. In shock and in joy the tears streamed down her faced. Quietly everyone gathered around and hugged her. The silence again was amazing to me. The loving energy of the people who had gathered there to pay tribute to her seemed to not only warm our hearts but our bodies as well on that chilly spring evening.
Finally as Cilla walked in the house she was greeted by her Mom and Dad. This was the house in which they raised her in so there was special meaning all the way around. As she went from room to room to see all the work that had been done and how beautiful everything was Cilla thanked us for our contributions. Words could not describe these moments and really give them justice.
As Cilla thanked us, we could only thank her back. As we are grateful to know such an amazing woman and we feel blessed that she continues to be in our lives.
Written by Jackie at
Ellie Mae's Cottage