“I can’t believe this is coming out of my mouth,” Kristen Ricciardelli said, “but I actually think it’s easier to be an active cancer patient than a post-cancer patient.”
She spoke from experience.
The mother of four from Milwaukee was still breast feeding her 8-month-old daughter when
doctors discovered a tumor in her breast in 2010. Kristen underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and was hospitalized twice for infections.
“I looked like a cancer patient,” she said.
Kristen became thin, grey, and gaunt. Friends offered to make meals for the Ricciardellis and pick their kids up from school. But the radiation treatments finished in a matter of months, and as Kristen’s health stabilized, the help went away.
“It was amazing,” she said. “All the emails stopped, the cards stopped, and I was at my lowest point at that time.”
Kristen struggled with the transition to the next phase of her recovery after her diagnosis and treatments.
“As horrible as chemo and radiation were, the mind game post-cancer plays was very hard,” she said. “I was trying to get on with life after having gone through such a frightening experience and trying to get back to being mom and wife and not a cancer patient.”
Kristen learned about Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreats® from a mother in her support group for young survivors in Milwaukee. The faith-based nature of Inheritance of Hope appealed to the Ricciardellis, and they attended the Legacy Retreat® in Orlando in May of 2012.
Kristen’s husband, Bob, said his family was immediately impressed by IoH volunteers who catered to each family member’s needs.
“To take four kids on vacation and to realize you actually have some help was amazing,” Kristen said.
Speaking with other terminally ill parents was empowering. Kristen said she was able to share her feelings about finishing treatment and gained perspective from other mothers with serious diagnoses.
“When I go to the support group it’s just women, but at the Legacy Retreat® I got to see the husbands and the kids,” she said. “That was incredibly powerful for me and it gave me a lot of hope.”
The Ricciardellis said the retreat was also meaningful for their children, ages 2 to 12, who explored Disney World with IoH volunteers and played with other kids. Their oldest daughter, Chloe, came to understand what the parents experience and expressed interest in volunteering at future Legacy Retreats®.
Since the retreat, the Ricciardellis have placed extra emphasis on gratitude and not taking time together for granted. Kristen recorded Legacy Videos for each of her children at the retreat and is considering writing stories of her favorite memories with her kids.
“After going on the retreat, we feel like we have to pay it forward,” Bob said.
Bob ran his first marathon with Team IoH, and Kristen encouraged a member of her support group to attend a Legacy Retreat® in November of 2012. She said her 5-year-old son, Robert, still talks about IoH volunteers and asks if the family can apply to go on another retreat.
“That tells you it really was a vacation for him, and that’s exactly what we needed.”