WEST BEND, Wis. - At Christmas on Indian Lore, the owners of the West Bend tree farm have been in the business of spreading holiday cheer since 2000. And for the past few years, they are making wishes come true as well.
"I feel like Christmas is the season of giving," said co-owner Jackie Fechter. "It’s the community and not us, doing this."
Jackie and her husband Dean are asking their customers to donate this Christmas to a family of five in Brookfield, facing multiple hardships.
Our existence is, what can we do tomorrow, what can we do on vacation, what can we do to have fun?" Fechter said. "And theirs is survival."
In 2016, Dan and Christine Roehling’s one-year-old twin daughters’ hearts began to fail. Their only option was a heart transplant.
"There’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a match, let alone be a match for somebody," Christine said.
Against all odds, Chloe and Kendall each matched with a donor. They’re still at constant risk of their bodies rejecting their new organs. Kendall even experienced cardiac arrest in 2018. Today, though, the sweet and vibrant five-year-olds are in kindergarten and can keep up with big brother Max.
"I get borrowed time with my kids," Christine said. "That’s amazing."
But time is once again running out for the Roehling family. Now, the clock is ticking on Christine.
"I just happened to do an exam one day, literally just out of blue," Christine said. "And I felt a lump. And by that point, it was too late because the cancer had already spread."
The 36-year-old was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer last December. Her chances of making it to her 40th birthday are less than 20 percent.
"I want my kids to have memories that aren’t of Mommy bald, laying on the couch," she said.
That’s where Jackie and Dean come in. They’re raising money to fill the time that the Roehlings do have left together with as much joy as possible.
"They have to stay where they’re safe, they have to stay at home," Jackie said. "They have to—and their yard was in such shape because they had so many hospital stays, they weren’t able to do a lot for themselves at their house."
The money raised will go toward a backyard flip at the Roehling’s house. Already, work has been underway to put in a patio. Up next, they'll be building a deck for the pool. The project is needed now more than ever when a simple trip to the grocery store could mean life or death.
"There’s five members in our family, three of us are immune-compromised. That is pretty scary when you’re living in a normal environment, let alone a pandemic," Christine said. "Spending our time at home and having things to do, places where we can safely have interactions and have our family over, socially distanced in the backyard, is a big deal."
Christine admits, she’s not one to ever ask for help: "It’s uncomfortable to have people care about you that much. But it’s also comforting."
In fact, she and Dan are usually the ones helping others. When their daughters were diagnosed with heart disease, the parents created a charity to help other kids in the same situation, called The Beat Goes On.
"We really focus on heart transplants and heart failure kids who are going through treatment at Children’s Wisconsin," Christine said.
Christine is once again turning the focus away from herself amid Jackie and Dean’s fundraiser—hoping that the backyard flip ultimately serves as a lesson for other young women, to prioritize their health.
"It’s vitally important that you know your body and you know if there’s lumps or differences and advocate for yourself," she said. "Cancer’s not something in my head that affected women in my demographic. But man, was I wrong."
Her message—a reminder this holiday season, that the best gift of all is being here for it.
"There’s joy in every journey, it just takes a little bit of effort to find it. And that’s what I’ve really tried to focus on," Christine said.
"They feel so blessed with what they do have," Jackie said. "I’m blown away by that."