The shortened days of winter beg populations the world over to celebrate symbols of light and life.
From the solstice to Christmas to the Hanukkah festival of lights, the warmth, growth and survival that light bestows have rich meaning.
The Christmas tree, for example, is “A symbol of life, new hope that exists during the very dark winter times of our lives,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Scott Nichols at Madigan’s Christmas tree and menorah lighting ceremony Dec. 1.
Hosted by Madigan Army Medical Center’s Department of Ministry and Pastoral Care, this year’s event featured songs of both the Christian and Jewish faiths, details on the meaning of the Christmas tree and menorah, treats and a visit from Santa.
Chaplain (Maj.) Henry Soussan, a rabbi with the 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, offered thoughts from the Hanukkah tradition.
“Some situations may be difficult during the year, especially here,” Soussan said. “But Hanukkah teaches us never to give up hope no matter how dire our situation may be.”
One of the highlights of the ceremony was watching Lourdes Esther Torres, 5, known as “LE,” help Col. Michael Place, Madigan commander, light the tree and menorah. LE was excited to be a part of the festivities.
During an office visit with the Torres family before the ceremony, Place and his wife, Jackie, asked LE if she was ready to give the commander a hand. She shyly nodded and, hand-in-hand, she and Place went to the Medical Mall Bridge for the afternoon ceremony.
“Last Christmastime, she ended up being in the hospital while she was first undergoing treatment,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) David Harper, one of LE’s team of doctors and caregivers. “So I think she’s excited to have this be a more normal holiday.”
LE was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in December of 2016. She has undergone multiple procedures with the help of her care team — Harper, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Melissa Forouhar, who are both pediatric hematology/oncology specialists, and her nursing team, notably the nurse who nominated her for lighting duty, Kirstin Vanhoute, R.N. — and her family.
“She’s had a lot of meds that have made her really sick, but she keeps smiling; and forgives us when we have to poke her with needles,” Vanhoute said. “She’s just a tough little cookie.”
And like cookies, Vanhoute will tell you, Torres is sweet. She is also very savvy about her own care.
“LE’s always good at telling us exactly what she needs, to include when her mother forgot that she needed her flu shot,” Forouhar said. “So, she made sure we knew that she needed a shot today as well as that her mother was wrong and forgot it.”
“Yes, she reminded everybody,” said Lurita Torres, LE’s mom.
A year into this challenge, the lighting ceremony provided a joyous break from a longer road to full recovery.
“Now that she’s in maintenance phase, it’s still difficult, but it’s more normal,” said Sgt. 1st Class Victor Torres, LE’s dad, and an instructor at the Noncommissioned Officer’s Academy where he teaches the instructor course. “This one has some longevity to it. So that’s a plus and now we can get back to doing more things.”
There is still more to come.
“She’ll have another at least year and half of therapy before she’s all done,” Harper said. “But, she is doing great with it. LE’s mom has been really good about focusing on LE and her needs. Both mom and dad are really supportive of her.”
In addition to mom and dad, Torres has two older sisters and a brother.
Dreana is a high schooler who is looking forward to the family’s pajama Christmas party, in part because of the gingerbread house competition planned for the older kids in attendance.
“We’re all about competition,” Dreana said.
Lana is a seventh-grader who is involved with multiple chores at her performing arts school. Victor Jr., known as Son by those close to him, is a young artist who is taken with painting.
While the future holds more challenge, it also looks bright for the Torres family. The family is going to Walt Disney World with the Make-A-Wish program.
“I think they’re all looking forward to May,” Victor said.
Until the sun returns, little LE and her whole family helped Madigan light the way through the dark days of winter.