HomeHairstyleSince 2017, a mother who lost her son to cancer has provided a vacation home to more than 30 patients and families
Since 2017, a mother who lost her son to cancer has provided a vacation home to more than 30 patients and families
December 19, 2022
In 2014, the lives of Jackie Culley and her family changed forever: her 17-year-old son, Riley, was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer. Over the next year he received treatment and eventually went into remission. But the Culleys couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief; doctors warned there was a 70% chance the cancer would come back, and if it did, it would be terminal.
In 2017, the doctor’s warning was confirmed. Jackie struggled with the news, but found solace in a new friend, Dani Madsen. The two had met through Dani’s hairdresser and sister-in-law, who felt they could offer each other much-needed comfort and support; Dani was battling cancer herself. Worse still, an inoperable brain tumor meant that the next Christmas would likely be Dani’s last.
“I wish I could take my husband and kids on a special vacation getaway,” she told Jackie over lunch. “Unfortunately my doctors said I couldn’t travel too far.” Jackie responded by gifting her family’s cabin in southern Jordan, Utah to Dani, suggesting she use it as a vacation home. Danny accepted.
Thus began a very special project. Jackie shared the plan with her husband, Paul, and her children, Mallory, Riley and Levi. “Let’s give them a real celebration,” she said.
Create a beautiful vacation getaway for Dani
The Culleys decided to go all out for Dani – they called and texted friends and relatives, asking if anyone wanted to participate. At the time, Riley ran a Nike store, so he asked employees to donate Nike gifts and merchandise. The family wrapped presents for Dani, her husband and three children, then went tree shopping. Two days before Christmas, they filled the hut with gifts, decorations and food. Despite her prognosis, Riley said it was her best Christmas ever.
When Dani’s family entered the cabin, they were amazed. “I can’t thank you enough,” Dani told Jackie. Unfortunately, the predictions regarding Dani’s condition were correct. It was his last Christmas.
Continuing the Tradition
The Culleys decided to host families battling cancer every year. Word spread and people donated to help carry on the tradition. Each year, the Culleys increased the number of families they housed. Riley, who defied the doctor’s expectations, celebrated two more Christmases this way.
Sadly, on January 5, 2020, Riley passed away. In his honor, the Culleys continued their tradition. However, they soon realized that they would need more resources. When they wanted to house the Augustine family – all 11 members, including a 10-year-old cancer patient named Eli – they realized their cabin would be too cramped.
An interior designer, Jackie reached out to contacts in construction, flooring and appliance sales on Facebook. She posted a message asking for help and dozens of people volunteered. A local charity, Uplift Mission, donated $50,000 for building materials. The Culleys used the money to renovate their cabin, which was ready in time to welcome the Augustines.
Inspired by the Culleys, Spencer Bailey, a cancer survivor who owns several Bear Lake properties, joined in the tradition. He now offers Christmas getaways to other families, and Jackie has formed Christmas For Cancer Families, an official non-profit organization.
The huge impact of Christmas for families with cancer
Christmas for Cancer Families has become more than just a holiday getaway. One year, a friend told Jackie of the Millers, a family undergoing home renovations when their 4-year-old child was diagnosed with leukemia. Jackie used an additional $50,000 from Uplift Mission and a large donation from one of the family’s neighbors to transform the Millers’ home.
So far, Jackie has given the gift of a carefree Christmas to 30 families with cancer, and this year she’s spreading the joy to even more. “December is now my favorite time of year,” she says. “It’s also the time when I feel closest to Riley and where I can celebrate his life with the joy of giving.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.