With Christmas quickly approaching in southern Delaware and around the world, Cheryl Vogl can't help but think back to the same period a few years ago and to a time when, overwhelmed and exhausted beyond belief, she spent the holiday in the closet of her bedroom. She wanted, even needed, to completely block out any light or noises from the outside world, and that seemed the only place where she could adequately do so.
The former professional counselor turned independent contractor had just endured a month that no parent should ever have to endure, watching helplessly as her 11-month-old son Silas underwent one chemotherapy treatment after another at A.I. DuPont Children's Hospital in Wilmington.
Diagnosed in September of 2011 with a rare blend of auto immune disorder and cancer known as histiocytosis, young Silas now undergoes regular treatments ranging from X-rays and MRIs to CT and PET scans in an effort to contain the disease, which is in both the skin and the bones of the now nearly four-year-old boy.
"I was just so tired and overwhelmed from all those trips to DuPont and seeing my son go through those chemo treatments that I just wanted to lay in that closet and sleep for as long as I could while Silas was with his dad for the holiday," admits Vogl, who says her son has been under anesthesia no less than 15 times so far in his young life. "I had spent most of those four months in a state of shock and it all just kind of hit me during Christmas."
Since her son's diagnosis on Sept. 12, 2011, Vogl's life has been turned upside down in a way she never could have imagined. Once earning a nice income and living in a stable home, while also closing in on her master's degree, she now finds herself a single mother with a disabled child and an uncertain future.
But not one to just sit back and become a victim, she has persevered with the help of a few local organizations, as well as the owners of the Oldfather Group of Ocean Atlantic Sotheby's International Realty in Rehoboth and Bethany Beach, where she works as an independent contractor.
"There have been so many times over the last three years that the Oldfathers have been there for me, helping out just by giving me something to do or somewhere to be," says Vogl, who is able to work part-time from home while her son is undergoing treatment. "I definitely need the income that these work-related tasks provide, but I also needed somewhere to belong. Being a part of the Oldfather team is a much-needed spot of normalcy and consistency in what has been an incredibly turbulent time in my life."
Throughout her struggles, Vogl has had the support of many in the community and, later this month, ground will be broken on a new Habitat for Humanity home in Ellendale where she and her son will soon reside.
Now an outspoken supporter of the Habitat program, Vogl is a model applicant to support the mission and the goals of Habitat for Humanity.
There are a good deal of women in the Sussex County Habitat for Humanity program like Vogl, women who currently have a disabled child in their home. Making them a part of the Habitat program furthers the organization's goals of offering a "hand up" rather than a "hand out."
"People come to us from a lot of different places, people who are on different tracks but have had their lives changed in an instant," says Kevin Gilmore, executive director of Sussex County Habitat for Humanity. "What we can do is stabilize their housing situations and their housing costs, which allows them to work on other areas of their lives. It's great that a program like ours can be the help that they often need."
Since her son's diagnosis, Vogl has also become a champion for Histiocytosis awareness. A disease she admittedly knew nothing about prior to her son's diagnosis in 2011, Vogl has spoken about her situation many times over the last few years and even addressed lawmakers at Legislative Hall in Dover in 2013.
After making a passionate plea to state legislators, Resolution 11 unanimously passed the Delaware Senate, after passing by a voice vote in the House of Representatives, on March 20, 2013. The resolution emphasizes the lack of public awareness of histiocytic disorders and encourages strong efforts to develop cures.
Next on Vogl's "to do" list is raising enough money to provide her son with a trained service dog through the national 4 Paws for Ability program. This will cost several thousand dollars and won't happen overnight, but the determined single mother is on a mission to make it happen.
And who can doubt her? But while Vogl's situation is beginning to improve, she also realizes that her life and the life of her son will never again be what most parents would consider "normal."
Still, she remembers sitting in the dark one night some months ago, while caressing her son's ailing back and mouthing a silent prayer that she would somehow, some way, be afforded a good home and a stable job.
"I was crying in the dark and praying so hard that night, and I still can't believe that both of those things came true," she admits. "My son and I have faced a tough road these last few years, but we're going to be okay."