When Riverhead resident Renee Hayes was six months pregnant with her daughter, she was faced with the unthinkable: Her husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.
The next 12 years were a journey filled with uncertainty and fear but also, with hope, encouragement, and most of all, love, from the sea of friends and family who stepped up to support her family.
And after Hayes' husband, Edward, 51, known to all as "Woody," received the gift of life in May when an anonymous donor made a bone marrow transplant possible, the Hayes family has made it their mission to give back, to help others waiting for their miracle.
"He’s doing great," Hayes said. "The cancer’s amost gone. He’s in remission."
Her voice laced with tears, Hayes recalled the moment her family learned a bone marrow match had been found. "I remember that feeling, when we found out that our donor was a 24-year-old male. It was so amazing for this person -- we have no idea where he lives -- to do something like this for somebody else, to give back like that. I only wish that someday, I'm the match for somebody, and that someone can feel the way we feel."
Hayes and her stepson, Liam, 24, signed up to be bone marrow donors at a Light the Night Walk last year and had their cheeks swabbed. "I can't wait for the day that I'm a match for someone," she said.
In addition, Hayes, her husband, Woody, her stepsons Kris, 26, and Liam, 24, and her daughter, Stephanie, 12, are walking in a Light the Night event; the fundraising events were created by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to build awareness about blood cancers.
The Hayes family have formed a team, Woody's Warriors, to participate in the Light the Night event on October 25, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center.
Last year, although the team got a late start, they raised approximately $2000 -- and this year, their goal is to collect even more donations. To that end, the Hayes family will host a yard sale on Saturday at her home, located at 39 Patti Lane in Riverhead, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
And on October 14, a flapjack fundraiser will be held at Applebees from 8 a.m. till 10 a.m. Tickets cost $10 and include pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs and a beverage; the event will also feature a Chinese auction and a 50-50 raffle.
Hayes' husband, Woody, was only 39 when he was first diagnosed, and a time that should have been filled with joy over a new baby suddenly turned tumultuous. At first, Hayes said, Woody was set to undergo a stem cell transplant but got very sick with a double lung infection, so his stem cells were frozen in 2001.
"It was very hard," Hayes said.
Throughout the long years of treatment, the Hayes family found hope in their baby girl. "We really believe everything happens for a reason," Hayes said. "She was sent to us at a perfect time."
Even while she was going through childbirth at St. Charles Hospital, Hayes was on the phone with her husband. Their newborn baby -- the first baby girl born in the Hayes family -- she believes, helped her husband fight cancer. "We do believe she pulled him out of this," she said.
And her husband's sons, Hayes added, were a constant presence, traveling to New York to see their father. "He was never alone," she said.
Family and friends, she added, were a lifeline, picking up their daughter from school or meeting her on the bus while she traveled to New York City to see her husband. "We have such a strong group of family and friends," she said.
In 2008, the procedure was administered and the stem cells utilized; her husband, Hayes said, was in remission for a year and a half. Next, she said, the cancer returned, and her husband was traveling back and forth to New York City for cancer treatments and was placed on a donor list with a national registry to find a bone marrow match.
After only three months, an almost perfect match was found. "It was an amazing feeling," Hayes said.
Living with cancer, Hayes said, has changed her family's lives. Despite the hardships, such as her husband being out of work from his job as a mechanic at a bakery -- Hayes works in Home Depot -- while he is in treatment, they no longer sweat the small stuff, she said.
"It makes you so much stronger and closer. Things you thought were important years ago aren't so important now," she said.
And, she added, they always take time to volunteer for community events; Hayes is a Girl Scout leader.
"It never seems to amaze me how many lives cancer touches -- if not you directly, then someone you know," said Dawn Betke, Hayes' friend. "Renee has risen above the negativity that it could have brought to her family and shown her daughter and our community that you can make a difference."
Betke said she would love to see people donate walk with the team for the Light the Night event, and help Hayes reach fundraising goals. "She and her family are a part of our community. She volunteers her time to run one of our local Girl Scout troop -- I think it's only right that we lend a hand."
Most important, Hayes wants to help other families facing cancer, by reaching out a hand of help -- and hope. "Now, what we think about is giving back," she said.
To donate to Woody's Warriors for the Light the Night event, click here.
And for more information on Saturday's yard sale or other events, email firstname.lastname@example.org