How One Family Isn’t Letting Cancer Ruin Christmas

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at jdeprospero@gmail.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.


The Internet, if you weren’t aware, is a pretty remarkable thing. It allows you to read this without walking to the newsstand and picking up a magazine or even so much as leaving the comfort of your own bed. It also spawned the onset of social media, allowing us the previously unheard of ability to seamlessly connect with complete strangers with a single click and to form bonds with them without so much as being introduced. And those people could change our lives. In the spring of 2012, I was about to find out how.

When my mom passed away last April, I wrote a rather detailed blog about it and posted to Facebook. I realized pretty quickly how far-reaching an Internet community can be when several friends shared the blog on their timeline, and then some of their friends shared it. Before I knew it, hundreds of strangers were reading about my grief, and many of them had been through a similar experience. It was quite healing, actually. Easily one of the most remarkable people I met through this process was Matt Kabel. A friend of my brother-in-law’s and a parent himself, he and I became fast virtual friends, commenting on each other’s posts, making each other laugh with snarky comments, etc. I felt like I’d met a kindred spirit, and I always looked forward to Matt’s entertaining analysis of life.

Then, this past summer, I read a post from Matt that was anything but funny. His baby daughter, Sally, at only 10 months old, was diagnosed with Leukemia. As I read the words, I sat in stunned silence for a while. Like any parent would, I imagined receiving such news about one of my own children, and my eyes welled up with tears. And not only did he have to deal with his own sadness, but had the task (along with his wife, Nicole) of keeping it together for Sally’s two older brothers, Thomas (7) and William (4). I recently spoke with Matt about the situation, and specifically how he was planning to approach the upcoming holidays. But the overall tone was not one of defeat, but determination and hope. Here’s what Matt had to say about cancer, its effects on his family, and the resilient little girl known as “Sweet Sally Sunshine.”

 

The lovely “Sweet Sally Sunshine” striking a pose at home

 

How did you handle telling your sons about Sally’s condition?

MK: After we found out, MSK (Memorial Sloan Kettering) actually gave us a children’s book on cancer, so Nicole sat down with Thomas and explained it to him that way. He took to reading the book and actually knew more about cancer than either of us early on. William was too young to understand, and still is. All he knows is that Sally is “sick.” One time he was ill and asked if he was going to get a feeding tube, so we have to be careful what and how we communicate. The hospital told us not to use words like ‘medicine’ to refer to chemo as we have to keep a differentiation between chemo and the medicines the boys would take (Tylenol, etc.).

 

Thomas and William (top to bottom)

 

Do you feel that you’re keeping the spirit of Christmas going for your kids’ benefit, or your own?

MK: Both. We’ll never forget the day we arrived at MSK and a nurse told us that the kids with families who stayed positive and lived their lives are the ones that have a better chance of getting through this. Christmas has always been a big deal in our home, and celebrating it to its fullest is “normal” for the boys. It wouldn’t be right to not do it; it would feel like quitting. We have Christmas music playing in our kitchen all day and it adds a bounce to our steps.

 

The extremely festive Matt and Nicole as elves, Sally as a tree

How have Sally’s treatments stretched you as a family? And how important is it that you spend time together as a unit during the Christmas season?

MK: It’s hardest when Sally is admitted. Nicole and I vowed when this started that one of us would always be there with Sally at the hospital. At the same time, the boys need our attention as well, so it’s a constant juggling act trying to get them all the attention that they need. But when Sally is home, she requires more attention and maintenance. She has to take priority, so often the boys are told they need to wait when they want something.

Christmas is all about family, it is very important to Nicole and me that we are together Christmas week. Our hope is that we’ll be together as much as possible, and when we do have to separate, the boys are doing something Christmasy to enhance the holiday for them.
What would you like other parents to know who are dealing with a similar issue?

MK: Cancer is currently in the driver’s seat, and we’re often reminded of this. However, we can’t let that stop us from living our lives. We make mistakes like any parents, and do our best to learn from them. It’s our job as parents to give our kids a great childhood, and we simply can’t put that on hold while we deal with Sally’s current challenge. It’s also our job to remain positive and upbeat so that they will follow our lead. Cancer may alter our holiday, but in no way are we going to let it dampen our Christmas spirit. As Santa says in Miracle on 34th Street – “Christmas isn’t just a day; it’s a frame of mind.”

Days after this interview, the Kabel family received the gifts in the image above and a $5,000 check for Sally’s treatments from PS19 in Staten Island, NY, making Christmas that might brighter for Matt, Nicole and the kids. Also, a charitable organization known as Bay Ridge Cares has held a fundraiser for Sally Kabel, offer rides to and from the hospital for her family and have organized meal trains for them. It’s hard not to smile knowing there are people in our world doing this kind of selfless good for others.

If it isn’t obvious, I’m grateful to have crossed paths with a family like the Kabels. Whenever I’m missing my mother, doubting that I have the strength necessary to act as “ambassador of Christmas” for my kids, I think of the admirable manner in which the Kabels are rising up against adversity in the name of Santa for their children, and I’m that much more certain that it’s possible for all of us. I’ve never even met Matt in person. But he’s still one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever come across. In fact, he’s in many ways the father I aspire to be. And I hope that if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed by the holiday season, you will think of the Kabels and their tremendous example of perseverance and strength, personifying the true spirit of Christmas.

In closing, I’m happy to report that Matt and Nicole have been told by the nurses that they should be able to have Sally home for Christmas Day. But whether at home or huddled together in a cancer ward, I know for certain that the Christmas spirit will follow the Kabels, no matter the location. And if for whatever reason you still doubt Matt Kabel’s relentless devotion to his family’s happiness, check out his very public tribute below…

Matt competed in a triathlon in August, donning this tutu in honor of Sally.

That, my friends, is love.

For more information on Sally, go to www.facebook.com/sweetsallysunshine or for regular blog updates on her progress, go to www.sweetsallysunshine.com.  Also, you can make a contribution directly to Sally by clicking here.

For those who celebrate it, have a Merry Christmas. Hug often. And God bless Sally.

As always, feel entirely free to join the conversation by adding a comment below!

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  1. by Parent.com Article

    On December 23, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    [...] Hi all – we’re on day two of three here at Memorial Sloan Kettering, officially halfway through our Christmas week treatment. Just wanted to share this article published today over on Parent.com about our family keeping the Christmas spirit strong despite Sally’s cancer and undergoing treatment this week. Special thanks to Joe DeProspero for sharing our story. http://www.parents.com/blogs/fearless-feisty-mama/2013/12/23/must-read/how-one-family-isnt-letting-c… [...]