Growing up with Tony brought with it a ritual for Friday nights at his house. Whenever possible, I was spending the night over there for pizza and staying up as late as possible to play Nintendo. Of course, the sleep cycle was often broken for a quick raid of the kitchen or a few toilet paper parties from time to time.
Often times Tony’s aunts, uncles and cousins would stop by for a visit on these nights. It seemed that an atmosphere of love and family was always present. This was the environment that followed the family wherever they were together – to ballgames, parks, and the hospital where Tony & Leah stayed with Libby while she fought for her life.
Up until this point in our lives, there was no experience that Tony or I were not able to share together. Dating, driving, graduations and weddings – all of these experiences are things Tony and I have shared together and could compare notes as we checked off yet another rite of passage. This list is virtually endless and I’ve been blessed with a consistent friend through them all. However, the experience of holding onto your child while she fights for her life is something that I cannot share with Tony. I felt helpless as I could only sit and watch as Tony and Leah seemed to wade out into dark and uncertain waters on a starless night. I could only pray that when they returned – if they returned – I would still be able to recognize my friend.
Though they were confined to the hospital for a time, the influence and support Tony and Leah gained was tremendous as we rallied around Libby. What was so impressive to witness was the growth of their spirit throughout this period. At a time when you would think people would retreat – their spirit of giving and love enveloped those who became aware of the situation. Tony and Leah not only identified needs for families who were also spending long hours at the hospital – they took action. There was an apparent lack of comforts such as movies to watch or games to play so Tony and Leah raised money to purchase these items and donate them to the hospital (this continues to this day through a nonprofit they recently founded). One way they did this was dovetailing off the popularity of the yellow “Livestrong” bracelets by designing a white bracelet with the word “Libstrong” in yellow. In addition, Leah took to blogging through the hospital’s CarePages site to keep everyone informed of Libby’s progress. The spirit and attitude Tony and Leah displayed throughout this ordeal was truly amazing.
Eventually, Tony and Leah did emerge from those waters together. And after almost 3 years of treatment, countless prayers, and the loss of friends whose children did not survive their battles, Libby defied all odds and is alive and cancer-free today.
Friday night pizzas are still celebrated at my second home. While Tony and I don’t often find time to stay up and play Nintendo, we do manage to reminisce and laugh about the times we have had together. Watching our own children grow and sharing in their rites of passage reminds us how blessed we were to have had an environment that fostered love and provided laughter. It is this environment that sustained Libby’s life.
This environment is what I believe we as human beings are meant to experience. We have a fundamental desire to love and to laugh – to be able to share joy and sorrow openly. When this is not present, there are those of us who, like Tony and his family, take action to create that environment for others no matter what they personally may be experiencing. Truly, the perseverance they display is what makes this family so incredible.
This story is not over, however. Two things remain consistent in this family – love and a fighting for life. As I stated in my previous post, the genetics in Tony’s family have an affinity for attacking vision. This attack threatened the life of Tony and then his daughter – but theirs are not the only lives for which this family has fought.