Did That Just Happen?

By Alan Thompson, Dream Kid Angel’s Dad

A doctor tells you your child has a tumor….Wait a minute. This cannot be true! Did that really just happen? Children with chronic illness and their families must quickly accept the new normal of living a life full of appointments, testing, and treatments while attempting to maintain some remote sense of structure in their lives. Each day is filled with anxiety and anticipation as to whether each test and treatment will reveal news that lifts your spirits or words that provide little hope. Even in those times of remission worries abound each time your child complains of a pain or sickness for fear of what it may mean. Children with chronic illness and their families are forced to come to terms quickly with their mortality and what tomorrow may hold. As a result, these children understand more about living than most anyone else unless others have walked this same journey. This is not a life we chose for our children but rather a life we were forced to deal with in a moment’s notice. It happens.

Children with chronic illness have dreams and aspirations like all other kids. They simply want to live a normal life, fit in, and do the things that kids do. Unfortunately, the limitations imposed by the illness, treatments, and surgery often create barriers which must be overcome. The efforts of Dream On 3, Adam LaRoche, E3 Ranch, and their sponsors gave our daughter a chance to put aside her normal worries and live out a dream.

Last Thursday night Angel and our family walked into the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway after a special ride for her Dream On 3 Experience send off with little advanced notice. Angel was speechless as first with tears in her eyes struggling to believe her dream to hunt with Buck Commander was coming true. Families, friends, and sponsors extended their love and support to our family in a very special way on this night. This was followed by a shopping spree in Academy Sports for some extra warm clothing for the Missouri weather. The next day we were Kansas bound with plans to stay on the E3 Ranch and hunt in Missouri. The plan was to hunt two evenings and then come home…little did Angel and our family know that much more was to happen…

What happened next is hard to describe. My wife probably summarized it best as we were walking across the parking lot to attend church with Adam and his family. She asked…“Why do all these cars have Kansas license plates?” Of course we were in Kansas but it seemed like a dream to be there for our entire family…it was so hard to believe (but of course we still laughed at her!) Adam, his family, Mike Miller (videographer), and the E3 Ranch embraced our group with such warmth and welcoming as we arrived. We were housed in the Buck Commander lodge, shared meals as part of a large family, and enjoyed a fellowship that was amazing. They opened their hearts and home to our family and bonds were made that will be forever cherished. We were able to take the time to be still to enjoy what would happen. We experienced a spirituality, conversations, and prayer that gave glory to God and caused each of us to look deep within our hearts. We felt an unconditional love in our midst. Had it stopped there, it would have been more than enough but indeed more was to happen.

Adam gave Angel a variety of Under Armor clothing and memorabilia as she arrived at the lodge. Angel and Adam’s children played non-stop with them accepting her and giving her the opportunity to fit in. They embraced her in a very special way. Mike and Adam were quick to jump in and give the games a little more excitement. When Angel got to the E3 Ranch, she had never been able to dribble a basketball, make a basket, or play ping pong. Thanks to the individual attention of Adam and Mike she was doing all these things before we left. They along with Adam’s children and Dream on 3 empowered Angel to believe she could move past the limitations she had experienced as a result of the brain tumor and associated treatments.

She also challenged Adam to a 3 D archery tournament and spent time honing her bow skills. Willie Robertson showed up on Saturday as a surprise to spend some time with Angel. It took her a little while to realize what had just happened to the point I had to tell her it was really him because she could not believe it. She had some basketball and ping pong time with him. Angel had never harvested a deer with a bow and had never taken a racked buck. All that changed on Saturday evening about 5:15 pm when she harvested a trophy 140” class 13 point buck with her bow. Of course, she followed the harvest with a Buck Commander tradition to play a prank and communicated to everyone at the lodge she had harvested a doe. They were met with a bit of a surprise when this doe had 13 points. The harvest was followed by tremendous fellowship in the skinning shed and an amazing night of fellowship. The next day found us in church with Adam and his family with an invitation to speak about our experiences and faith at the Fort Scott Church of the Nazarene…what an amazing spiritual experience.

Today, we can say “that did just happen!” The dream became a reality and amazing things came to be. We each must cherish the moments we are given and make the most of each. We must choose to make memories in things big and small choosing to see the positive we have before us despite our circumstances. Life is not so much about who you are but rather how you are. What we experienced was a dream, a love, a fellowship, and a spirituality that is immeasurable. We hold onto the tears we shed as our memories… the tears of happiness shed because people cared enough to make this happen, the tears of joy as Angel was accepted and fit in, the tears of excitement in the harvest of a trophy animal, the tears of a parent as they watch their child dribble a ball for the first time, and the tears of love shed for each other as we departed. Truly, this was a dream experience. We cannot even begin to thank all those who made this experience possible at a level you deserve. All we can say is this…you made a difference in the life of Angel and our family.