Gift of giving, Peninsula-style

Tiffany Turner, left, and Michelle Binion rounded up the community troops to put together a remarkable fundraiser for Dylan Harrell and family this past weekend.

Every season has its gifts, some more predictable than others. Just now I walked out to the lower yard, the residence of my fruit trees, and found one last Asian pear on the ground. I saw only two pears to pick on my tree some weeks ago — where was this one hiding? However, I didn’t want to look a gift pear in the mouth, so I’m simply enjoying it with a little slice of cheddar.

I appreciate this small personal offering; and, on the totally other end of the spectrum, the same day I experienced an amazing community outpouring at the Dylan Harrell fundraiser. The scope of this gathering was stunning.

As some of you may know, the Harrell family is experiencing a devastation that will rock their world for the rest of their lives. The whole family — Jeff and Casey, big brother Mason and 4-year-old Dylan — are bravely facing a diagnosis of DIPG.

DIPG? Yes, as Casey says, “Before August 8th, those four letters meant nothing to us. Unfortunately we then learned that Dylan has DIPG, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. In one instant, the life we saw ahead of us was destroyed.”

DIPG is a brain tumor or glioma that starts in the brainstem, the area of the brain most involved in all critical body functions — breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, walking and balance, speaking, eating, and vision. It’s an aggressive cancer, which, because of its location — just above the back of the neck, connected to the spine — is rarely operable. Radiation and chemotherapy can slow it down but there is no current cure.

About 300 children are diagnosed with DIPG every year. As Casey shared in a statement read at the Chinook fundraiser, “Unfortunately, I’m afraid we just won the worst lottery possible. We’ve devoted every day since the diagnosis towards Dylan’s care, and we’re learning as much as we can about DIPG. We’ve had, and continue to have, many ups and downs. There’s so much fear and uncertainty, not knowing if your child will live to see their next birthday, the next holiday, etc. This has made us discover the joy in everyday moments as we stay positive for Dylan’s sake. It’s reminded us to be present and made us realize how trivial most of our previous complaints really were.” 

The Chinook event was one bright spot in the midst of this tragedy as 250-plus community members came together to support the Harrells. It took a village to bring this event to fruition. Tiffany Turner and Michelle Binion started the ball rolling by calling — who else? — long-time community boosters Catie and Ed Ketel. As this fearsome foursome began making plans, the effort grew.

The basic idea was a dinner, and Rita Nicely (of course!) was instrumental in asking local restaurants, chefs, and bakers to contribute a signature dish. Prime rib was donated by Jack’s, Okie’s and Sid’s; John Oakes was on hand to cook and slice it; au jus by the Ketels; Rita added creamy horseradish sauce; John and Carla Hanson provided salmon; The Depot sent over their classic crab mac and cheese; Pickled Fish sent their version. 42nd Street Café whipped up mashed potatoes. Lost Roo baked root vegetable gratin. Salt Hotel and Pub rustled up brussels sprouts with pork. And The Cove kicked in harvest salad. Crown Alley Pub sent Irish soda bread. Nanci Main made her famous dinner rolls. Then local bakers lined up with a slew of mouthwatering cupcakes: Kathy Colvin; Sandy Stonebreaker; Katie at the Shelburne; and Pink Poppy Bakery all contributed.

And this was only the beginning. In the silent auction were donated items from glass balls to art to vodka. As Michelle said, “I contacted anyone I knew who owned a business or was crafty and things just snowballed from there. Local businesses, even out of town businesses — anyone who heard the Harrell’s story — was willing to help. We even had donations from the Mariners!”

After dinner (a donation of $50), when Ed was able to get everyone’s attention (the bar — featuring donated wines and spirits — was a popular stop), the live auction started. Auctioneer Tim Hicks delayed a family vacation to head things up; he had a hat tailored to every item: a catcher’s mask for the Mariner’s “Family of Four, Play Ball” and tickets donation; a baseball signed by Griffey Jr.; a golf hat for a California fun-in-the-sun golf course trip (donated by Ron and Karen Harrell, Dylan’s grandparents). Other items included a unicorn-themed birthday party (Katie Freese, Mavis Shucka); shop-‘til-you-drop spree with two-nights’ accommodation in Portland (Bank of the Pacific); Jeff and Casey donated their tickets to the Seahawks game on Dec. 23 and two nights at the Silver Cloud Hotel; auctioneer Hicks even donated a stay at the family’s vacation home in Coeur d’Alene.

I’ve attended several events at the beautifully renovated Chinook auditorium but never seen it quite as splendiferous as it was for this occasion. There were lights everywhere and a wall of pictures of Jeff, Casey, Mason and Dylan. Lots of people sported “Team Dylan/DIPG Warrior” T-shirts. Others wore crazy unicorn hats and other party accoutrements.

Being there felt like riding a cloud filled with the best of community spirit. Hugs were passed around liberally. People we hadn’t seen in weeks or months were joyfully greeted. Everyone was thrilled and happy to be part of a gathering that had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with love and support.

As Casey said, “One thing we’ve learned is that people are so generous and caring. We’ve been absolutely blown away by the support we’ve received. We live in such an amazing community and are moved to tears regularly by the acts of love and generosity given to Dylan and our family.”

As the evening progressed, the bidding was enthusiastic both for the silent and live auction items. I checked with Tiffany the day after and she said, “We raised $76,185. We are blown away! Our community is truly amazing!”

Dylan just finished week three of radiation. Casey says she’s halfway there.

“We’re seeing some positive signs and are cautiously optimistic we’ll see more symptom regression. We have not given up hope and have many other things we plan on pursuing to continue the fight for her. We try to surround Dylan with nothing but positivity and love. No matter what happens, we plan on continuing the fight for other children and families affected by DIPG. We hope that someday, no parent will ever have to hear that their child has just months to live.”

Michelle summed up the community response this way: “We support each other when times get tough — and this is one of those times.”

If anyone wants to donate to the Harrell family, contact Tiffany Turner at tiffany@adrifthotel.com. There is also an account in Dylan’s name at Key Bank.

•••

Next week — “Dog Tales,” a saga about salmon poisoning.

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