When it comes to the Pig Bowl, common words used to describe the experience of community activism include, love, compassion and family.
Once you are a part of this group, the support never wanes.
“I am just so humbled by the outpouring of support from the community and everyone involved,” said Sherilyn Hutchinson, mother of Amelia, one of three beneficiaries.
“When this first started, there were a few names and faces that stood out, but now we have entire communities and generous businesses who have gone above and beyond to help strangers, really. It is such a blessing to be a part of this.”
For the first time in its 15-year history, the Pig Bowl, a fundraising flag football game featuring local law enforcement from Oregon and Washington, donated in excess of $30,000 to three families.
At a ceremony held Thursday evening at Westwind Frame and Gallery in The Dalles, all three families were presented with checks for $10,200 to help with medical expenses.
Proceeds have grown to nearly $300,000 in the event’s history, with one, sometimes two families selected.
But, the unprecedented number of three is one example of how others care about this event and how they are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the families involved are taken care of, as they are on the road to treatment and recovery.
“This means the world to me,” said Noah Messenger, an 18-year-old from Goldendale, Wash., who fell 60-feet down a cliff in May, breaking his back.
“There are times you feel alone, but all these people helping out really gives me the drive to get better.”
Noah Messenger previously described how he slipped and fell 60-feet down a cliff, near an orchard and laid helpless and alone in the cold for 36 hours, wondering if he was going to survive.
When he was found, Messenger had hyperthermia and was in kidney failure with his body shutting down.
Paralyzed from the waist down, Messenger has not given up hope of walking again.
The past weekend has been a whirlwind of emotions for Messenger, who was beyond humbled by the show of generosity.
“It means a lot. We really appreciate this,” Messenger said. “It is just wonderful to see all of the people come here to support me and my family. It was very surprising to be a part of this. I can never thank everyone enough.”
In late June, Amelia Hutchinson, 4, from Oregon, was diagnosed with Burkitts lymphoma, a very aggressive, very rare form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Her mother, Sherilyn, first noticed a quarter-sized lump in a lymph node in April after Amelia had a slight cough.
Over time, the lump continued to grow, and tests showed it was solid, not drainable. Blood work didn’t reveal cancer, and a host of other tests were done to rule out other problems.
By then, the lump was two inches and very prominent.
It was decided to remove it. The surgeon doubted it was cancer because it came out cleanly. But the dreaded call came on June 29.
They learned it was a lymphoma, and within an hour, the family was headed to Portland to check for more masses.
There were no other masses, but more invasive tests requiring sedation confirmed it was Stage 1. Then she had to have another lump removed, her third procedure in three weeks.
She did so well in her first round of chemo, then her second, and a post-chemo scan revealed she was cancer-free.
After two years of clear scans, she will be considered cured.
“I am absolutely amazed with this community and how much support they have shown to people when there is a crisis. They pull together. I am completely overwhelmed,” Sherilyn said.
“I love The Dalles. This is where I want to raise my family. Just knowing that my children are going to grow up in a community where people actually care about them is really special. We will keep going forward as a family. I love our community. I am forever grateful.”
Skylynn Bichler, also from The Dalles, now 7, was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, which caused seizures, and medication helped control it initially.
Last November, the symptoms were back, and worse than ever, with her having 10-plus episodes daily.
After a week-long hospital stay in early December, and a battery of tests, doctors found she had a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy and also an abnormal brain growth, which was causing her seizures.
The growth was removed in an eight-hour surgery in January.
She developed weakness on her left side, and in March began physical therapy.
But after only three sessions, she was no longer “eligible” because she showed progress, even though she couldn’t write or throw a ball with her left hand at the time.
With therapy no longer an option, her parents Heather and Shawn had to take it upon themselves to help their daughter’s physical needs to the best of their ability.
She was progressing better than expected until mid-April, when her seizures returned.
Her left arm and leg grew weaker, and her leg started giving out on her at times.
Toward the end of May, she had twitching in her left arm and leg, making it difficult for her to walk.
At that time, the initial diagnosis of tuberous sclerosis was ruled out and more tests were planned.
In late July, she had an MRI and lumbar puncture, which found some spinal fluid results were suggestive of inflammation, but others were not.
Her neurologist says she will most likely have to have another brain surgery, and a followup appointment is set for mid-November of this year
Skylynn is unable to walk much or do normal activities and she is being home-schooled this year for first grade because of hermedical issues.
Shawn and Heather Bichler have grown a stronger bond since Skylynn’s diagnosis.
Nothing is going to break their spirit.
“We want to stay strong for Skylynn. We want her to be able enjoy life and be a kid again,” Shawn Bichler said. “This has brought us closer than ever before. It has presented a lot of challenges for us, but no matter what we do, we are always a family unit together.”
That trio joins Willie Funk, ACTS, Special Olympics, Christian Bagge and Barbara Mann, Jessy Lyon, Gretchen McCoy, Karen Warren, Donovan Doroski, Kadee Herrington, Josh Miner, Misty Martin, Abby Marble, and Tana Slawson, along with the Brandon Walter, Jennifer Magill, Peter Garland, Lila May Schow and Mike Anderson families.
“It is very inspiring, especially today the way times have changed,” said Pig Bowl organizer Michael Holloran, an Oregon State Police trooper.
“You feel very blessed to live in a small town with everybody coming together.”
For more information on the Pig Bowl program, to nominate a family in need or to contribute to the cause, visit www.pigbowl.net.