Last week, we partnered with Toast on the Town to host a pop-up Friendsgiving dinner for Moffitt Cancer Center's young adult patients who would be stuck in treatment over the holidays. Chef Michael of Cena in Tampa was our lead chef of the night, along with his amazing team. One of his sous-chefs, unbeknownst to me, had just beat cancer as a young adult the month prior and this dinner was the first time he's worked since his diagnosis. Get this: he was cleared to work just the day prior to Friendsgiving. Crazy how God works... Andres stood up there and shared his story with our 26 dinner guests and was an image of hope and encouragement to them as he was so fresh out of his fight.
At 5:30, patients started to meet in the Adolescent and Young Adult Lounge on 4N at Moffitt. A big group checked in and hung out for a little while before heading down to the cafeteria. It was cool to watch a group of total strangers feel so instantaneously comfortable with each other, which stemmed from the commonality of cancer. Struggle connected them, but it required each one of those young adults to be open and to be vulnerable. It required them to take the step to get themselves to Friendsgiving so they could ultimately experience that connection.
Around 6pm, we walked the group downstairs to the cafeteria where Christal and the Toast on the Town team had BEAUTIFULLY set up the table and dining area. The group had a few minutes to get some snacks, meet Chef Michael and his team of Cena, and chat with our Spark the Way team.
There were so many conversations that I had in that time that I don't know how to best type them all out. People came from all sorts of backgrounds and means of support. Some came with their spouses, one came with her twin, some brought a friend, but a few came alone. I want to share all of their stories with you, but I have so much respect for these young adults and the place that they're in that I want to give them each the individual attention their stories deserve. I plan to interview them and get their stories blog'd out for you so you can get a detailed, focused picture of their lives, but the one sentence I KNEW I had to share with you came from a young adult who was newly wed, and also newly diagnosed. She said,
"We haven't felt this connected to anyone in a long time."
And that is exactly what we toasted to- community.
Following the toast, Chef Michael and the teams served our 26 Thanksgiving guests with a fancy 3 course meal. During that time, a small group of us delivered to-go boxes of food to patients who didn't have the option to leave their rooms. These patients were being treated on the Bone Marrow Transplant floor and can't have hardly any interaction with the outside world for days, sometimes months, at a time.
We divided and conquered. Chef and I went to a room of a 19 year old boy who, as it turns out, lives in New Port Richey, which is where Chef happens to be from and they had a lot to talk about. Again, crazy how God orchestrates things. Our board members and Moffitt leader delivered to the other 4 rooms as Chef and I headed back to the cafeteria to close out the impactful evening.
I could high-five Christal, Chef, and both the Toast on the Town and Cena teams, a million times over for making Friendsgiving happen, but I'm most impressed by the patients who came. I think back to my time in treatment and I don't know that I would've signed up to go to something like this. I admire these fighters SO much for being open to this, and I know that their courage was rewarded with a sense of community and a new means of support through Spark the Way, whether they came to Friendsgiving with a lot of support already, or none at all.
To see all of our Friendsgiving photos, head to our Facebook page!