Finding hope in New York City
A local family touched by cancer attends a Legacy Retreat in New York through Inheritance of Hope
The Prineville O'Gorman family recently returned from a New York City retreat where they not only saw the sights of the Big Apple but were inspired to have hope — hope in God no matter what happens.
Their journey was a gift from Inheritance of Hope, a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire hope in young families facing the loss of a parent.
Pat O'Gorman was diagnosed with a brain tumor three-and-half years ago. Now, at age 48, the grade 4 aggressive glioblastoma brain cancer has taken a toll on Pat and his day-to-day activities. He once had a lawn care business and looked after the grounds at a local golf course, but now he's not able to work and continues to battle cancer.
Born in northeastern Oregon, Pat is a Prineville transplant, having moved here 12 years ago when he married Jennifer, the daughter of Greg and Gail Merritt, of Prineville. She teaches eighth-grade social studies at Crook County Middle School. Their 10-year-old daughter, Merritt, is a fifth-grader at Barnes Butte Elementary School. She loves dance, science, basketball and golf. Their 8-year-old son, Graeme, is a third-grader. He loves sports — soccer, football, golf and basketball.
Jennifer first heard about Inheritance of Hope when reading a blog of another Oregon brain cancer patient. The woman had posted a story about the organization on her Facebook page, helping to spread the word about its mission.
Deric and Kristen Milligan, the parents of three young children, founded Inheritance of Hope in 2007 while Kristen was battling terminal liver cancer. Their vision is "every family deserves a legacy." Donations, fundraising runs and volunteers support the organization, which is headquartered in North Carolina.
They achieve their mission by providing life-changing Legacy Retreats, scholarships, resources, and ongoing support — spiritually, emotionally and financially — for those facing a loss. Inheritance of Hope is a faith-based organization, welcoming families of all faiths and backgrounds while serving under the core beliefs of the Christian faith.
They believe families with children under 18 with a parent who has a life-threatening illness should have a worry-free and cost-free fun vacation. During the Legacy Retreats, they take care of all the planning and all the costs so the families can build memories together. Additionally, families interact with other families who understand their challenges, and they attend counseling sessions together.
"I read about it and thought this is exactly what my family needs," Jennifer said.
That was a year ago. After an application process, which included a note from Pat's doctor verifying his diagnosis, they got word last winter that they were approved to attend a Legacy Retreat.
The children chose to attend the New York retreat rather than the Orlando retreat because they'd already been to DisneyWorld as a family and wanted to experience a new city.
They left Prineville on Saturday, Nov. 19 and enjoyed the retreat the following day through Thanksgiving Day. They stayed in nice hotel not far from Times Square. There were 21 families at the retreat, and 46 children.
Each morning, the children were in group sessions with counselors while the adults were in counseling sessions. The children were divided into age groups and worked on activities, giving them tools to help them understand their worries.
"We took a stuffed animal and took string, and each string represents a worry, and then we wrapped it up on our animal, and then we locked up the worries for the rest of the weekend," Merritt explained.
They learned how to validate their emotions; wrote their worries on balloons and then popped the balloons; made lists of things that lift their moods; and they made a swamp of what sickness feels like. They read Bible verses about peace, grace, troubled hearts and being not afraid.
In the adult sessions, the literature included several Bible verses about God being with them, no matter what trials He's putting them through.
"We don't always understand why, but He is working on us in all of our trials," Jennifer said. "He heals people in different ways, and we don't know how He's going to heal us. He can heal us instantly, He can heal us over time, or He can heal us in heaven, and we just have to put things in His hands and try not to worry."
After their morning sessions, the families got to experience New York City. They took a harbor cruise and saw the Statue of Liberty, which was Graeme's favorite part of the whole retreat — especially when the captain let the kids drive the boat, complete with the captain's hat.
Merritt's favorite part was watching the Radio City Rockettes perform the "Christmas Spectacular" in the Radio City Music Hall, a group famous for their kick lines.
They went to the top of the Rockefeller Plaza and saw the city all lit up at night. They watched Saks Fifth Avenue light their window display. The adults had a date night while the kids went to Hard Rock Café and explored Times Square. They also saw the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade before heading back home.
Jennifer says the trip was exhausting for Pat, but considering his diagnosis, he's doing well.
"He gets really tired and fights fatigue a lot," she said.
His brain cancer diagnosis has brought Pat closer to the Lord.
The family attends Ascent Christian Church, in Prineville, and although he went before his illness, he says he was reluctant to accept the Lord into his life. Not long after his first brain surgery, he decided it was time to be baptized.
It was also during this recovery period that God spoke to him, "I need you to touch one person every day and give them hope."
That is his personal mission these days.
"I used to be very schedule-oriented," Pat says. "I could tell you what I was doing next week at this time. Now, He puts me where I'm supposed to be, when I'm supposed to be there."
Jennifer adds that God put Inheritance of Hope into their lives at the right time.
"We needed it, and they're there to help families and help the kiddos," she said. "The doctors have said many times, you have to hope for the best, but you have to be prepared. How do you do that? That's what this group does. It helps you have hope and faith and yet still some tools to deal with it."
Volunteers with Inheritance of Hope took photos of the family on their New York City adventures and presented them with a scrapbook of their memories just as they were heading home.
They returned with not only wonderful memories and new tools to deal with their situation, but hope.
"I think that message kept coming across." Jennifer said. "To have that faith and that hope and knowing that we will all be taken care of, but also how we can pass on our legacy to the kids, and part of that legacy is our faith."
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