By Susi Diaz, Project Hope Alliance
For those of you who have had the incredible privilege of meeting Peggy Friend, you know that she is one of the world's most gracious and kindhearted women. She's young; she's stunning; and she has a seemingly endless heart for children in need. She has spent every day of her adult life serving her own children, her beautiful grandchildren, and any child who came across her path. Within moments of meeting her gaze, you know that there is a strength that cannot be broken inside this lovely woman, and the heart of Project Hope Alliance is modeled after her own.
Peggy is a seemingly unstoppable force for love. Yet, a year and a half ago, I stood with her in the Project Hope offices as she talked about what she thought might have been a stroke. Numbness and incoordination—we were all staggered that anything could thwart this beautiful woman. We prayed for the best. And then we heard it was ALS.
Even now reflecting on that moment, I feel anger that an unstoppable disease would rob this courageous woman of her strength. ALS, as many now know, eats away at the neurological function of a person, trapping them inside of their own body. It is always fatal. And yet, how it accelerates and progresses remains a mystery. We still don't know how much time we have left with Peggy. We all grieve as we watch this woman who stood strong in the face of so many seemingly insurmountable barriers fall prey to a disease that she cannot conquer—that none of us can. The world isn't supposed to work that way.
Only a year and a half after her diagnosis, Peggy's body is failing. She cannot communicate the way she once did. She cannot read her grandchildren bedtime stories or play catch with them in the backyard. This beautiful woman who held herself with such grace cannot hold herself up anymore. And yet, just as with the first day I met her, to look into her eyes is to see a kind of strength and graciousness that will inspire you. It inspires all of us at Project Hope Alliance to believe in the future of every child who walks through our doors and to fight for that future. Peggy is still the same woman, and her significance and power to love and to give isn't contained or diminished by the disease.
Our team chose to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge because we believe that everyone—whether they be a homeless child or a patient with ALS—should have hope for the future. There is no cure for this disease. We, like so many of you, have been touched by the evil of ALS as it robs the people we love. Yet, we also promise to use our grief and anger as fuel to fight for a future where there is a cure.
Peggy, we love you. Even though your words no longer serve you, we know your vision for the children of Orange County. This horrible disease has never and will never rob you of that heart. You inspire us every day, and we thank you for the strength and grace that you give to each of us.