Many of you, particularly my social media friends, have already seen this story, but I’m sharing it here to reach a wider audience to celebrate the love that has been showered on my friends. To those who are familiar with my friend Kellee, her battle with cancer and her journey to Disney, I ask you to continue spreading this type of joy. To those who are just now discovering this tale, I realize what follows is lengthy, but the payoff is worth it as, at least for me, it has helped reaffirm my faith in humanity.
I tell myself it’s “just in case.” Three words, meant to provide peace instead of living in fear of the worst.
See, this is my friend Kellee. She is married to my friend John. Her cancer has returned, and while the prognosis doesn’t look great, they’re choosing to face it with positivity. To start, they’re taking their young daughter to Disney World to create as many memories as possible.
You know, just in case.
So if any of you would like to help out, either for this trip or for future expenses, let me know. We can make arrangements until her GoFundMe account is activated.
Oh, and what kind of person would you be helping? When I asked her permission to post this and ask for help, she sent me this: “Lots of people don’t have money. So prayers are good. Hugging the people they love is also good.”
If you can give, please give. If you can’t, please pass on along the love in your own fashion. Maybe let Kellee know another way you’re spreading love in the world today. Or maybe you can send up some prayers, pass out some hugs or send her some good vibes.
Everything is appreciated.
Just 24 hours later, I was able to share this:
There is no possible way Disney can have a heart. It is, after all, a corporation, and not just any corporation but part of an international, multi-billion dollar corporation. Heart simply isn’t an option.
It can, of course, exist on a micro level, those individual stores with unique employees who work daily to bring a little bit of joy – dare I say, even, magic – to people’s lives. These are our neighbors, our friends, our family – you know, REAL people. They exist, and as a result, the concept of having a heart exists.
A few days ago, a long-time friend announced her cancer had returned. It has spread to her liver, and doctors are putting her on trial treatments designed to add months to her life, not to cure her. She is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. She is, however, choosing to fill her final weeks with joy, doing as much as she can to provide lasting memories for those around her.
That includes her daughter, Kate, who is about 5 years old.
Like many kids that age, Kate loves Disney. Moana is her favorite character, but she loves them all. Kate has never been to Disney World, although that will likely have changed by the time you read this letter (it’s currently April 14, 2017, and they’ll be at Disney World April 16-19). There was simply no way Kellee would allow cancer to take her life before she’d been able to give Kate this trip. “I’m not going to lay around waiting to die,” Kellee told me.
So, despite the mounting bills from previous cancer treatments, along with the inevitable future costs they’ll face with the next round in the battle, Kellee and her husband John are taking Kate to Florida for a few days in the Magic Kingdom. Kate does not know her Mom’s condition, does not know that this is a trip of a lifetime … for a lifetime.
To Kate, this is a chance to meet her favorite characters, to ride countless rides and to eat as much food and candy as her little belly can handle. For Kellee and John, it’s a chance to give their daughter the world (or, more technically, the World).
They couldn’t do it alone, thanks to those aforementioned bills. Through the generosity of friends and family, they are on their way to Disney World, almost as I’m typing this.
And that’s where Disney’s heart comes into play.
My friend Cari Allen, a longtime employee at the Fayette Mall Disney Store in Lexington, Ky., saw my Facebook post about Kellee and Kate and immediately took action. Thanks to her efforts, people who are complete strangers to me, let alone Kellee and her family, have donated money, gift cards and more (not to mention countless prayers and good vibes) to support their trip. Store Manager Heather Teater and employees at Lexington’s Disney Store have donated a beach towel for Kate and autograph book she can use when she tracks down Moana, et al. while in the park.
I cannot fully express my thanks enough to them for this kindness. They don’t know Kellee. They didn’t have to do this.
But they did. They did, and that’s all that really matters as a little girl, who is months away from losing the very person who gave her life, heads off to Florida with a heart bursting with joy and excitement.
I realized, now, my initial assessment of Disney’s corporate heart, or lack thereof, was misguided. Employees who take this kind of action in a store so willing to make dreams come true would not be able to happen without a parent company that didn’t foster creativity and the full belief that true magic can actually take place.
One of the best ways I can every thank someone is to offer a connection to a Bruce Springsteen song (note: I am a huuuuge fan, and if Cari ever gets to see this letter – and I hope she does – this will mean something to her as she knows Springsteen quotes aren’t something I toss around lightly). I keep coming back to this line: “I don’t believe in magic, but for you I will.”
So, to Cari, to Heather, to the Lexington Disney Store employees, to the corporate managers and bosses and executives who will never know Kellee, John and Kate, I offer my most heartfelt appreciation. I have lately struggled with this world, being bombarded daily with messages of hate and evil across all corners of the globe. Thanks to this team, though, I realize there is hope, there is kindness.
And yes, there is magic.
Word about Kellee spread throughout social media, and before long, others had joined this cause. Jonnell Whitson, a woman I’d never spoken to before in my life, sent a note telling me she’s a travel agent specializing in Disney trips. She had heard about Kellee, made a few calls and now the family has a variety of surprises in store during the trip.
The story continues throughout the week, but the efforts so far have been met with humble amazement from the family.
“We haven’t even been to the Magic Kingdom yet and this trip has already been amazing. So many surprises and so many truly kind people. It seems some Disney folks got wind of my story, and from the time we arrived yesterday, it’s been one surprise after another including a bungalow over the water to watch the water parade and fireworks plus dinner catered from Disney Ohana. This trip means so much to me for so many reasons. It’s perfect, and I am more grateful than anyone could possibly ever know. Thank you so much everyone.”
To those who have read, who have told others, who have given, who have prayed, who have sent good vibes, thank you for fighting the good fight and for showing the world true kindness.