Gina Dunard, her husband, Michael and their seven-year-old daughter, Olivia received life changing news this past July after a doctor visit. Gina was focused on getting her husband ready for knee surgery and taking care of her family when she discovered that the left side of her body was feeling weak. After tests and a MRI, Gina was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She saw several doctors to get more opinions and to be sure before surgery took place. It wasn’t until after surgery that the doctors discovered that the tumor was, unfortunately, cancerous. Gina was told that she had level IV Glioblastoma.
Glioblastomas are tumors that arise from astrocytes—the star-shaped cells that make up the “glue-like,” or supportive tissue of the brain. These tumors are usually highly malignant (cancerous) because the cells reproduce quickly and they are supported by a large network of blood vessels. Only in rare cases is this type of cancer curable.
Gina was concerned for herself, but mostly for her family. She worried that she wouldn’t have the strength to work, to spend time with Olivia or to cook and clean. Knowing that she was left with little choice, Gina powered through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments and managed to only miss one workday due to illness after recovering from the surgery. Although she is able to keep her job at Community Opportunities in Troy so that she can maintain the health insurance for the family, she didn’t always have the strength to play with Olivia and do everyday chores around the house. She often spends her weekends catching up on sleep and mustering up enough strength to get through the next work week. Gina sought out books and literature for help during these times to find ways for Olivia to understand the situation that their family was now dealing with. After reading many books, Gina found an organization that could help them called Inheritance of Hope.
Inheritance of Hope (IOH), a fairly new nonprofit charity, which relies on donations to offer special vacations that they call Legacy Retreats to bring a family out of their stressful life environment and away for several days to bond and make memories. Gina decided to apply for the trip, soon after she was notified that they qualified for the Legacy Retreat in New York City. “I was very excited about the opportunity to attend the Legacy Retreat®,” stated Gina. She added, “I was happy to meet other families in similar situations as ours and hoped to be able to learn from
them. I wanted to gain insight into how my daughter is coping with my illness and how to assist her best in the future.”
IOH is focused on helping families make the best of any situation and specifically helps families with young children who are in danger of losing a parent. During the retreats there are special activities for the children and support groups to ask questions, listen to stories and to learn from those who are also experiencing the same things. The Dunard family was one of 175 families from 36 states that have participated in a Legacy Retreat®, an all-expenses-paid experience to help families create memories and build a community of support.
The Dunards left for their Legacy Retreat to New York City on Nov. 22 and spent several days in Times Square. They were able to shop, tour Manhattan on a 3-hour boat ride, see the Statue of Liberty, and much more. Gina even got to live out one of her dreams of seeing a Broadway play. The whole family went and enjoyed Matilda, a musical production. They packed their bags and left for home on Nov. 28, but not until they were able to see the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!
Olivia made many friends while on the trip. “It was exhausting sometimes but it was fun,” commented Olivia. “My favorite part of the trip was going to M&M World and Toys R Us.”
The Dunard family can’t thank Inheritance of Hope enough for the great memories that were made on the trip. “We were given a nice photo book that they made for us as a gift and I made a legacy video answering questions about my life that I will get from IOH when it’s finished so Olivia will always have my favorite memories,” said Gina.
Gina will be having another MRI on January 2nd to see if the chemo is working. With the assistance of family and friends, the Dunard family has been blessed with a lot of needed support that helps them to make it through this journey.