Before last summer, neither 17-year-old Seth nor his 13-year-old sister, Mandie, had ever been on an airplane. Yet in June of last year, the entire Felker family from Alliance, a small town in northwest Nebraska, boarded a plane to Disney World in Orlando, where they enjoyed a Legacy Retreat unlike their usual family road trips in the Midwest.
“Believe it or not, this was the first family vacation we’ve ever had,” said Mark, father of the four Felker children.
A gift basket awaited the Felkers upon their arrival to the hotel room, and the kids remember fun nights in Downtown Disney. Mandie said she visited restaurants and took pictures with new friends, and Mark said he was so exhausted from walking all over the theme park in the summer heat that he fell asleep on a shuttle.
“Having fun is really hard work, no question,” he joked.
The Felkers enjoyed the rare vacation through Inheritance of Hope, which invites families with a parent who has a life-threatening illness to relax, reflect, and create lasting memories. Mark said the family sometimes worries about medical expenses, but the Legacy Retreat flew the Felker family to Orlando at no expense and provided access to the theme park and dining. Inheritance of Hope
volunteers tended to each need and took lots of pictures.
“It was nice not having to plan anything,” said Janis, Mark’s wife. “It was all planned out and we just had to show up.”
The Felkers said their most lasting memories of their Legacy Retreat involve meeting other families with a terminally ill parent. In addition to fun activities, the Felkers participated in sessions to reflect on their experiences with cancer.
Janis was diagnosed with a benign tumor in 2007. A surgery that paralyzed much of the left side of her body appeared to remove the cancer, but Mark began to notice different behavior in his spouse around Thanksgiving 2010, and an MRI revealed an inoperable tumor on the opposite side of her brain. Janis stopped homeschooling her kids and began making seven-hour trips across Nebraska to see doctors in Omaha every other month. She completed a year of chemotherapy in December.
Mark said faith has provided his family peace since Janis received her diagnosis. The family rarely speaks or thinks about cancer, and Janis continues to do what she wants to do, he said.
“We have not been exempt from all of the same emotions and feelings and thoughts that anybody would have in this situation, but I can tell you the real difference for us is purpose as defined by God and what position or role He plays in our lives,” Mark said.
Members of the Felker family said they left the Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat weekend with memories: making new friends, snapping pictures, having fun with mom and dad. Mark and Janis made a Legacy Video of messages for their children to watch in the event of their passing. Janis said her tumor is now stable and she hopes for encouraging visits to the doctor, but she is thankful for the Inheritance of Hope volunteers who helped record the Legacy Video.
“It was nice to think about answers that I would like to leave for my kids if I were not here,” Janis said.
Nearly a year after their Inheritance of Hope experience, the Felkers have long-lasting memories and friends around the country with common experiences. They bonded with other families on the Legacy Retreat, and now the family of six from a small town in Nebraska is just a phone call, text, or email away from close friends after a brief vacation in Disney World.
“I liked pretty much all of it, but I have to say it was really interesting to meet all of the people there and interact with them and see how their lives were,” Mandie said. “It was relieving to know that I’m not the only one and there are more people who can relate to me and I can talk to about it because they understand.”