BYU sophomore Natalie Wright had her second brain tumor surgery when she was 4-years old. Shortly after that, she and her family went to The Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation. They were overwhelmed by love and support.
Fifteen years later, Wright works as a volunteer at what is now known as the Mac’s Gift: Children’s Cancer Foundation, a two-night event that helps lift the burden on children and families battling cancer around the Christmas season.
“I can’t believe the wonderful opportunity I have to be a volunteer now and see the smiles on kids’ faces that were on my face,” Wright said.
Mac Boyter, the founder of Mac’s Gift: Children’s Cancer Foundation, had stage four cancer in 1991, according to his wife, Alta Boyter. She said the doctors gave him two weeks to live.
He lived for another 22 years.
Mac passed away in 2013, but his foundation lives on as families affected by cancer gather to enjoy a night of games, pizza, Santa Claus and the BYU basketball team.
BYU basketball head coach Dave Rose and his wife Cheryl serve as honorary chairpersons for the foundation.
“We raise money, try to bring awareness to the party and offer people opportunities if they want to get involved,” Cheryl said.
Dave was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago. The Cougar coach goes through scans every six months and Cheryl said he is currently doing well.
“We always say everyday we have together is a good day,” she said.
Rose said his team is hands-on during the event. They run the games and crafts. They focus on providing an enjoyable two-hour experience for the families affected by cancer. He said some of the longest conversations he has had with his players have been about the event.
“They establish life-long relationships with some of these families,” Rose said. “These kids admire these players to the point where they follow them the next year and the next year.”
BYU senior forward Kyle Davis said he’s been to the event three times. He called the event a highlight at this time of the year.
“These families, they need to be cheered up,” Davis said. “They’re always optimistic even though they’re going through a hard time, so in a way it lifts me up just as much as it lifts them up.”
Davis reminisced of an experience he had helping a father take out gifts to his car. He said the father got emotional and told them how much the event means to him.
“That was pretty special,” Davis said. “For us it’s not that much of a big deal, but to him it meant a lot.”
Wright gave a speech on the first night of the event. She said she wanted the families to feel the love and spirit of Mac.
“Even though Mac’s not here anymore, he’s in our hearts,” Wright said. “He really cared about every person here.”
Alta said her husband would be pleased about the continuation of the event in his absence.
“In fact, sometimes I wonder if he’s here watching,” Alta said.
Carrie Jackman has served as a coordinator of the event for three years. She worked for a doctor in Provo who treated Mac. She said the event is about giving hope to families battling cancer.
“To see a child who suffers so much forget about their suffering for three hours and just have fun being a regular kid, that’s what’s so touching to me,” Jackman said. “No doctors, no IV’s, no pokes, no pain. Just fun.”
Wright said she’s blessed to have beaten cancer, but still has her trials. She knows several of the families who attend Mac’s Gift: Children’s Cancer Foundation have their trials as well, but feels the event provides unity and love.
“I’m happy to give back and love these kids,” Wright said.