Victoria Schultz left the Believe In Tomorrow Children’s House By the Sea with one regret: she wished she brought her daughter Simone Schultz and her two other children to the beach respite sooner.
Doctors at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Westchester, N.Y., diagnosed Simone with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in June 2006. Simone completed her treatment program in August 2008 and this May the family discovered a simple getaway they would have never planned on their own. The Believe In Tomorrow House By the Sea taught the Schultzes how to enjoy each other’s company again.
“The beach house allowed us a family getaway that we hadn’t had yet,” says Victoria. “The kids were too little to go on family vacation before we were diagnosed.”
Diagnosis came all too quickly. Victoria noticed Simone, 3 at the time, didn’t feel well and took her straight to the doctor for blood work at 10 a.m. By 1:30 p.m. Victoria and Jeremy Schultz had dropped off their 18-month-old at their mother’s house and were driving their daughter to the hospital.
“They tell you things like: ‘Pack for the week.’ It was June, and my husband and I show up to the hospital with sweatshirts and slippers,” says Victoria of the initial shock they felt as parents jumping head-first into a life-threatening illness.
Simone went through four rounds of chemo, but did not need to get radiation or any other surgeries. The fourth phase of chemo made her lose her hair.
“You just don’t have any idea how to feel,” says Victoria. “You really don’t because there are so many emotions and joys you experience. The small little joys of having a white blood cell count go up.”
In the midst of the emotional roller coaster, a social worker at the hospital gave the Schultzes information about the Believe In Tomorrow National Children’s Foundation and its respite programs. Victoria says she was so immersed in her daughter’s illness she never followed up. Then a woman she met through an online support community told her about a trip to the Believe In Tomorrow House on Wisp Mountain. Victoria gave Believe In Tomorrow a second look and in Spring 2008 the Shultzes were approved.
Victoria says the beach house was a luxury from the moment they checked in and received their welcome basket.
“With any kind of beach house that sees multiple families, there’s always concern about cleanliness,” says Victoria. “It was clean and so nicely put together with all the amenities.”
During treatment, Victoria would not take Simone anywhere without fitting her with one of the surgical masks she ordered online. She installed Purell dispensers at her front and back door, reminding guests to keep germs out, and kept Simone out of crowded areas like malls.
At the beach, Simone and her siblings finally let loose. They rode the Ferris wheel, flew kites, played mini golf, strolled the Boardwalk, and found starfish on the beach. Victoria and Jeremy enjoyed their first cracking crab feast. The Schultzes were also on respite the same week as the Gala by the Sea, a Believe In Tomorrow fundraiser, and were invited to dress up and attend.
“If you ask Simone, she has such little recollection of what happened to her,” says Victoria.
The Schultzes are set to return to the beach – this time The Believe In Tomorrow House on Fenwick Island – in July. They will graduate from the program’s services in August, and look forward to clearing space so another family has the opportunity to enjoy time together.
“I would encourage anybody to utilize this resource, even early on in the treatment program,” says Victoria. “Enjoy this enormous resource given to us because life is hard. It’s well worth it.”