The Conti family of New York still looks at their photo album from the Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat at Disney World in January 2011.
“I’ve even looked at it just recently,” said Angela, 45. “We still cry over it, but it’s happy tears now because my husband just found out not too long ago that he’s completely cancer free.”
Two doctors have told Bob, 57, that he has recovered from the stage IV lymphoma that sent tumors to both of his eyes. His sight and health have improved, but the photo album recalls a time when Bob’s health was at its worst.
“It was a time when we thought we were going to lose him,” Angela said.
Bob’s optometrist discovered tumors growing behind his eyes during a checkup for glasses in September 2010. Subsequent scans revealed cancer in his neck and lungs. Bob sought a well-known ocular oncologist in Philadelphia and underwent six treatments, including a procedure two days before Christmas that prevented Bob from going to church with his family.
“I didn’t know what was gonna happen,” said Bob, a college professor.
The suddenness of the cancer diagnosis scarred the Conti family, particularly Bob and Angela’s children — Bobby, Anna, Grace, and Nicole, ages 18 to 9. The youngest daughter could not sleep without being with her parents, fearing her father would not survive the night, and Angela said all of her children dealt with depression.
Family friends had attended Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreats in the past, and one spot was available for the winter retreat at Disney World when the Contis asked about the program. At the start of 2011, the Conti family flew to Orlando, where they played in an amusement park, took part in counseling sessions, and met other families also dealing with terminal illnesses. The Legacy Retreat provided a much-needed stress relief, Angela said, particularly after cancer darkened the mood of the holiday season.
“It was a great calm in the middle of a really horrible storm,” Angela said.
The kids took comfort in realizing they were not alone in their struggles and learned to express their feelings, Angela said. Angela and Bob shared their experiences with other parents and explored ways to create memories.
Bob underwent two additional treatments after the retreat and waited eight months to determine if tumors would return. In October 2011, in the midst of a memorable snowstorm, Bob received an MRI that found no tumors in his eyes. His vision returned to normal, and doctors said the cancer was unlikely to come back.
Bob was also accepted into an online doctoral program for teaching, a longtime goal of his. He expects to finish the program in three to four years.
“God’s giving back his health and answering his lifelong dream, too,” Angela said. “We didn’t expect to hear it and we’re still rejoicing about it.”
Angela and Bob said lessons from Inheritance of Hope continue to serve their family after Bob’s recovery. Angela has battled Parkinson’s disease for nine years and visited hospitals twice in the past year for intensive care. She said the idea of leaving a legacy for her children is very dear.
“We’ve learned that life is very, very fragile,” Angela said. “We have to take every moment because you don’t know if the next breath is guaranteed.”
Memories rush back when Angela looks at the Inheritance of Hope photo album. “It’s just a reminder of how very serious the situation was and how hopeless it was yet through it all we have this time that was so joyful and loving. It’s great we have that family time captured together.”