Seven-year-old Edie Gilger greeted me with a smile and a confident handshake when we met. Her poise was befitting of our interview setting, the Sims-Stackhouse Mansion in downtown Columbia, SC. And as her family and I made our way to our seats in the parlor, I realized that I was holding my breath – a thing I sometimes do when I am nervous.
What questions should I ask? Was my prepared list good enough?
Do you know that unexpected weightiness of feeling that comes when meeting someone of importance?
Here in this historic home, I sat staring at two ladies who were part of medical history.
Edie and her mother Emily both received a trial drug treatment targeted specifically for neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer. Their story from diagnoses to treatments to cancer-free is fascinating. It was after Edie’s treatments that her mother Emily discovered she had the very same cancer. Emily was pregnant with her second child and gave birth early before her treatments began.
“I’ve actually Googled you a bit,” I confessed to Edie. “I know that you’re on YouTube and have been on television and now you are set to ride on Northwestern Mutual’s float in the Rose parade! How do you feel about this celebrity-hood?”
Edie hesitated. I leaned over towards her a bit, not knowing if she was shy or about to indulge me in some sweet secret.
Then her face broke out into a huge grin.
“It’s fun!” she said.
And we all laughed.
And my interview took a surprising turn. It was not an hour of sadness, though my eyes did fill a few times. It was instead an hour that culminated hope.
I believe that same hope is what Northwestern Mutual will convey at the 2017 Rose Parade when Edie’s family rides their float, celebrating the joy of childhood and the hope for all the “moments” that could be made possible for children battling cancer. They’ll share the spotlight with their own Dr. Yael Mossé, researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They’ll celebrate Steve Guinan, a Northwestern Mutual leader in the company’s commitment to fund childhood cancer research.
So … what if you were going to be in the Rose Parade?
Yes, I asked her all the good stuff that you’d want to know.
Have you ever been to California? No, I’ve never been to Pasadena!
Do you know what the float will look like? Yes! I’m going to look like I’m riding on a giant wave.
How long is the route? What if you have to go to the bathroom? (Yikes!)
Have they had you practice your wave to the crowd? No, but dad wants me to wave like this … (much laughter)
Do you know what you’re going to wear? YES, LILLY!
Yes, I asked Edie’s mom those questions you’d want to know.
She shared how her husband Nick’s support carried her. She shared how family and friends rallied to help. She shared how small routines during their long stays at the hospital helped make life a bit normal. She shared how much she needed to talk and how special people listened to her well.
She recommended reaching out and doing research, finding good hospitals and doctors and asking about targeted therapies.
She admitted to the many others she’s listened to since her journey to cancer-free.
So … what if we continued to find successful treatments for childhood cancers?
Yes, I asked Edie’s dad about their involvement in research. How did it feel to give your daughter a trial drug? How does it feel now? He beamed when looking at the two ladies sitting on the couch beside him.
“They’re doing research right there,” he exclaimed.
We talked about medical science and what it has and might achieve. I asked if we could make a movie about such an inspiring success.
We know that all pediatric cancer stories do not end this way.
I know of someone lost to neuroblastoma. The Gilgers know more.
But what if? What if there was increased funding for research?
We ended on the “what if ” when we left each other that day.
I’ll be thinking on that “what if” when I watch Edie Gilger wave from Northwest Mutual’s float at the Rose Parade on January 2. I hope you will too.
Will you tune in and look for the Gilgers, our Lexington, SC, family waving from Pasadena? You can even download your own “wave of hope” to color and send to Edie.