Neighbors give woman special gift with Christmas Wish Tree

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Meigan Maher, pictured inside her Pontiac Trail home, has battled cancer for two years. Photo by Jim Lincoln.

Tecumseh resident Meigan Maher has been undergoing some difficult times as she’s battled cancer for the past two years, but her neighbors in the Pontiac Trail cul-de-sac recently put a smile on her face when they decorated a tall pine tree in her yard for Christmas.

Meigan said it all started a few weeks ago when she was outdoors trying to clean up her yard a bit and noticed one of her neighbors, Cassie Hollen-beck, outdoors.

“When you have cancer, it’s kind of rare to be out in the yard and nice to see
another person, so we visited for awhile,” Meigan said. She mentioned to Cassie that it would be nice to see a very tall pine tree in her yard decorated with lights.

“The tree is probably two-and-a-half stories high, and it originally came from my father’s farm up north in Reed City,” she said. “I always enjoyed the tree growing up, but now it’s huge and gorgeous and just screams out to be decorated. I was just thinking maybe I could ‘rent out’ Cassie’s husband to put some lights up on the tree if he could be available for that.”

Cassie knew that her neighbor had been challenged with treatments for her cancer, and when she learned that Meigan didn’t already have lights for the tree and of her wish to possibly make that a reality, she had an idea.

“I’d been watching her go back and forth each day for treatments, and I felt like she needed some hope this holiday season, having been beaten down with the cancer stuff,” said Cassie. She then wrote notes, mentioning Meigan’s desire to have the tree decorated, and left them at each neighbor’s house.

“Within three days, we had the money that we would need to purchase lights for the tree,” said Cassie. She estimated that there were approximately 600 white LED lights on the tree.

“I was just floored when I received a phone call that the neighbors had gotten together and were going to do the tree for me and Cassie asked me what color I wanted,” said Meigan. “They were so generous, and I am grateful for that. I just never intended to put anyone out or anything, but Cassie assured me this was something they wanted to do.”

Over the weekend following Thanksgiving, Cassie’s husband, John, and their son, Jacob, climbed to the Maher’s roof, and with an extension pole they put the lights up. The Hollenbeck’s also have the lights plugged into their own porch outlet as an additional neighborly gesture.

“We know all too well the expenses incurred for cancer patients and the difficulty it can be just staying on top of budgeted expenses,” Cassie said. The neighbors also planned to get together on Wednesday evening to sing Christmas carols and present Meigan with a gas card using funds that were left over after the purchase of the lights.

Meigan said she first learned she had cancer in February of 2010, and had both chemotherapy and radiation treatments for about a year.

“I was doing really well for about three months then the cancer came back and I had to do chemo again,” said Meigan. She’s still healing from side effects of treatment, “But scans now show that I’m cancer free,” she said. “I’m just waiting for my hair to grow back. That’s what I want for Christmas.”

Meigan said in addition to her generous neighbors, she has found the Tecumseh community to be gracious as well throughout her illness.

“At first I was really self-conscious, thinking ‘should I buy a wig?’ but now I just wear hats and scarves, and people in town who know I’ve had cancer have made me feel comfortable,” Meigan said. “Just today, in fact, at the British Pantry I encountered one of my old high school teachers and she said she’d found out she had breast cancer around the time of her son’s second birthday. He’s 34 now and she told me, ‘You could very well have a long life to live.’”

Meigan has found such words encouraging and she has an upbeat and positive attitude, despite the trials she’s experienced, and says not letting it get her down could be just what someone else needs, since so many have been diagnosed with the disease in one form or another.

“I think it’s good for people to see someone out and about who has cancer. It doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” she said. “You can still enjoy your life even if it’s altered or shortened. It doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy things.”
Meigan emphasizes that not every community would do what was done for her, making her wish to decorate the tree come true.

“It meant the world to me,” she said. “I’m still floored by their generosity.”
Cassie said even though she helped coordinate the effort, she, too, is grateful for the generous spirit of others.

“It’s nice to know that on this block and in this neighborhood, we still live in a place where we can ask for what we need and have such an outpouring of generosity,” Cassie said. “It’s nice to know that everyone can still come together in a compassionate way in today’s world, that you can ask and receive. It’s heartwarming to know that.”




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