“Most people don’t want to be normal, they want to be different. But we couldn’t wait to be back to normal.”
Following five-year-old Kate’s cancer diagnosis, the Zidanic family lived by these words as their lives became a whirlwind. Just days after her fifth birthday in 2011, Kate was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Her family didn’t even know how to react.
“All I heard is ‘your child has cancer,’ and then I didn’t hear anything else,” said Kate’s mom, Cindy.
What started as a small lump behind Kate’s ear turned out to be a swollen lymph node – or a “love node,” as Kate called it – and just days later turned out to be cancer. She started chemotherapy in May and didn’t believe that she would lose her hair because it didn’t happen until November. Rolling with the punches, Kate nicknamed herself “fuzzball” until her hair began growing back in early 2012. Everyone else tried to adopt her attitude, but it was hard.
Kate’s older brother wanted to protect her, but he couldn’t really do anything. He snuck on the computer to research things he heard the doctors talking about, coming to his parents with question after question that they had a hard time answering. “You don’t just wake up one day and know everything about cancer,” said Cindy. While caring for Kate became number one priority, Eric landed in the backseat – something Cindy swore would never happen, but it was almost inevitable.
Kate’s social worker at Levine Children’s Hospital in North Carolina recognized the family having a tough time and thought they would really benefit from a brand new mountaintop retreat house in a quiet, relaxing community just outside Asheville, NC: the Believe In Tomorrow House at Pinnacle Falls!
Just days after submitting an application, Cindy received a phone call. A Believe In Tomorrow Hands On Flying Adventure was taking place in Charlotte, NC, not too far from their home, and would Kate like to ride on the MetLife Snoopy blimp? “Um, YEA!” she had said.
Soon after her airborne ride, Kate and her family packed up for their first respite to the Believe In Tomorrow House at Pinnacle Falls. Their first reaction: beautiful.
“It’s more than a vacation, it’s just so relaxing,” said Cindy. “On other vacations you feel like you have to go, go, go to get to the next activity but here, there is none of that. No doctor’s appointments, and no neighborhood kids knocking on the door. You can just relax.”
The Zidanics enjoyed meeting the neighbors in the surrounding Pinnacle Falls community and sampling local favorites in the nearby town of Hendersonville. Among everyone’s top picks were fish tacos at Hubba Hubba Smokehouse and apple cider donuts at Sky Top Orchard. Kate’s favorite, however, was Hot Dog World, which she proclaimed to have the BEST hot dogs (in the world!)
Kate was a picky eater before her diagnosis, and since chemo affected her taste buds, it’s become even worse. But while staying at the Believe In Tomorrow House at Pinnacle Falls, Kate has always enjoyed meals at their favorite places, a sure sigh of relief for her parents.
In just a few weeks, Kate and her family will be taking their last mountain respite, as Kate has been off treatment and in remission for almost a year. The kids are most looking forward to fishing in the local ponds, but mom and dad are really excited to get their hands on some fish tacos again. And most of all…they are excited to be NORMAL again, together as a family!