April has been designated as Month of the Military Child, a time to recognize their sacrifices and accomplishments. The story of the Young family, now of Waldorf. Md., is filled with both.
While stationed at Lajes Field, Portugal, in 2008, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Carlton J. Young and his wife Crystal found out that their one-year-old daughter, Cydney, had a cancerous tumor growing in her stomach.
"We thought we had the perfect little family," Crystal Young said recently as she looked at a family photo taken three weeks before Cydney's diagnosis. "Everybody was healthy. Little did we know she had this humungous tumor in her belly."
The Youngs immediately returned stateside, and Cydney underwent emergency surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
It was through Walter Reed that the Youngs became involved with the Believe in Tomorrow Children's Foundation, which provides hospital and retreat housing for critically ill children and their families
In 2005, the foundation launched its military initiative, which prioritizes military families in respite housing and offers Hands On Adventures programs.
"My heart goes out to military families, and I think that they have some special needs and special stresses in their lives," said Brian Morrison, the organization's founder and CEO. "One of them is that many times they are without the support that many other families have. They are far from their homes. Where we can make choices as to where we go for treatment, that choice is dictated to them."
Almost a year to the day that Cydney was diagnosed with cancer, the Young family checked in to the Believe In Tomorrow House By The Sea, in Ocean City, Md. There, the family was able to reconnect, reflect, and celebrate Cydney's recovery.
To mark Cydney's being off active treatment for one year, the Youngs also took advantage of the Hands On Bullriding adventure, in which kids get to meet competitors in the Professional Bull Riders' championships and take part in an opening ceremony.
Morrison says the Hands On Adventures have a very complex, but simple, mission.
"The mission is to plant the seed of hope and looking forward into children and families. The important thing in my mind is not the event, but if they go home that evening and they start following PBR over the internet or watching it on ESPN, then we have done something that is successful. We've gotten that child to start thinking about what's taking place next week, next year, and not what happened today and yesterday."
Today, Cydney is a happy and active two-year-old who enjoys playing with her siblings Cristene, Chandler, and Cayla. Cydney will have to undergo a round of test every three months for the next five years to make sure the cancer has not returned. Her most recent tests have come back clear.
But Crystal says that while the test results are a relief, as parent you never really put you guard down.
"Just when you think 'she's doing great!' now we have another round of tests to do. You sit on the edge of your seat waiting, thinking 'will this round of test be the one that does not have the best result?' But you learn to live life to the fullest and to be thankful for every single day you have with your kids."
Read more about the Believe in Tomorrow Children's Foundation here.