“Treating families to ‘wow’ experiences, giving children who will lose their mom or dad to cancer a ‘time-out’ to create indispensable memories as a family…while they can.”
-The Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation
“Yeah, right.” That was Gaylene Smith’s initial reaction after hearing that the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation had selected her and her family as recipients of an all-expense paid vacation to the destination of their choice. “I was shocked,” Gaylene says. It’s a fitting reaction, given that the Jack and Jill Foundation is a national organization that received 300 requests the same day the Smith’s story was submitted for consideration.
Michelle, the Hospice social worker who submitted their story, believes it was the combination of a deserving family and perfect timing. First, there’s the family. Gaylene, a beautiful wife and mother of three with crystal blue eyes and a bright smile, is in the final stages of colon cancer.
Randy, her husband, is right by her side supporting her and their three daughters, Kayla (19), Kristie (16) and Katie (12). The family’s focus over the last year has been on Gaylene’s battle with cancer there hasn’t been time for family vacations.
As for the perfect timing, the Smith family has Michelle to thank for that. While Michelle was checking emails from home one morning, the Today Show was on in the background. Her ears perked up when she heard the founders of the Jack and Jill Foundation describing their work this way: “Treating families to ‘wow’ experiences, giving children who will lose their mom or dad to cancer a ‘time-out’ to create indispensable memories as a family…while they can.”
Michelle stopped what she was doing and immediately went to the Jack and Jill Foundation website to determine how to submit the Smith family’s story for consideration.
She didn’t hear back initially and, given the national publicity the foundation had received on the Today Show, Michelle doubted she would. However, two days later she received a voicemail from Heidi, a representative from the Jack and Jill Foundation. Michelle immediately called her back. After a great conversation, Heidi told her, “You know Michelle, I am going to help your patient.”
Michelle was thrilled and a little skeptical, given that they still had to get all the paperwork submitted within a couple of days. Setting her doubt aside, she got to work. First, she called Gaylene and gave her an update, along with a word of caution, “Don’t get your hopes up, it’s a long shot.” She then called Gaylene’s doctor’s office. The nurse informed her that the doctor was leaving for vacation the very next day, but told her if Michelle could get the paperwork to her right away, she would be sure to have the doctor complete it before leaving. The form was 12 pages long, but amazingly Michelle did receive everything back before the end of the day.
Four days after submitting the paperwork, Michelle received a call from Randy letting her know that the family had been selected. Michelle was so thrilled, she hung up the phone and exclaimed to everyone within earshot, “They are going to the Bahamas!”
Once the immediate shock wore off, the Smith family got busy packing and also made time for a little shopping. “You’ve got to have new clothes for vacation,” Gaylene says, sharing a smile with her daughter Kayla. The Foundation paid for everything, including their first-class round trip tickets, hotel stay and meals.
On top of that, the Nassau Minister of Tourism sent a representative to take them to lunch one day, and also provided them with complimentary passes to the infamous Atlantis island resort. Gaylene was so impressed with their hospitality and kindness. “Everyone was so nice and everything was free; well, except the shopping,” she says.
Randy went on to explain that when they arrived at the hotel, they had oxygen delivered to keep Gaylene comfortable during their stay. The last day of their vacation, Randy went to the front desk to pay for it and was told that it had been covered by the hotel. In addition, Kodak also gave them a camera and is providing them with a memory book of the photos taken on their vacation.
The amazing generosity shown to the Smith family was not lost on them. They are grateful to everyone who had a part in making their trip to the Bahamas happen. From the “crazy good” entertainment to the lasting memories they created during this precious time together, it is clear that this trip was just what they needed. And, as Michelle will tell you, it’s just what they deserved!