A Friend's Story

By Cheryl Simon

September 24, 2001

On Thursday of last week, I had one of the most amazing and profoundly moving experiences of my life. I was privileged to be “ In the Company of Heroes” at an awards ceremony at the Georgia State Capitol building. Twenty-six children, ranging in age from about three to seventeen, were each, in turn, presented with medals by Governor Roy Barnes to honor them for their courage and spirit during their long battles with their life-threatening illnesses.

These precious children arrived with their parents and siblings, and some with extended family members, friends, teachers, and school chums – those people who have been rooting for and supporting them. Gretchen and Carl Lizza, founders of Tony’s Gang and Tony’s parents, talked about how, since the attack on our country on September 11th, people are more aware of the vulnerability and living with more uncertainty about the future than before. These are emotions that Tony’s Gang children and their families experience continually. Their courage and spirit help them to face the challenges and to find joy whenever and however they can.

A sixteen year old boy, named Will, spoke to us about how his blindness from his brain tumor has made him realize that people don’t “see” with their eyes, they see with their hearts and souls. With humor and insight, Will told of how much he has learned about appreciating his life – that he would not change places with anyone. Will’s story was uplifting and inspirational. While a few of the children appeared to be normal, healthy kids, their families know that the future will be difficult. Most of the kids evidenced effects of their illnesses. A few appeared so weak and fragile, that I wondered how they would make it through the day. Yet, when each was called to the podium, the medals placed around their necks, and their picture taken with Governor Barnes, all smiled broadly, beaming and looking as proud as could be.

I keep getting things more in perspective lately, and this experience has added to that. I wish all of you could have been there with me