Alissa Bousquet was enduring her last chemotherapy session, and her husband Brad naturally wanted to do something special to celebrate. So as she sat and waited for her treatment to end, a surprise entered the hospital room from around the corner. But what had started as a small, touching gesture from her husband snowballed into a deed that reduced many patients to tears.
This inspiring story came to be for one simple reason: Brad and Alissa live in a small town. Now, the problem with living in a small town for some people is that, more often than not, everyone knows your business. When you’re in need of support and a helping hand, however, there’s nowhere else you would rather be.
The Bousquet family discovered, then, that great strength can sometimes come from even the smallest of communities. Indeed, when Brad reached out to their relatively tiny town of Oakland, Nebraska, for help, many of its 1,244 residents were happy to oblige.
After all, the family of six had for years lived happily in the town of Oakland, about an hour outside Omaha. But back in December 2015 their world suddenly turned upside down when mom Alissa received her devastating news.
It happened because when Alissa turned 40, she went for a routine mammogram. Unfortunately, though, it was here that she discovered that she had stage one breast cancer. The diagnosis was even more shocking as Alissa had no family history of the disease and was exhibiting no apparent symptoms. In fact, Alissa was lucky that it was detected at all.
Sadly, around one in eight American women develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. Early diagnosis, however, can have a huge impact on the prognosis. And so, although the news was heartbreaking, the family remained positive and drew some comfort from the fact that it had been caught early.
Nevertheless, statistics show that American women have a greater chance of dying from breast cancer than any other kind of the disease, with the sole exception of lung cancer. The good news, though, is that breast cancer death rates have been on the decline over the last 25 years. This is due in part to early detection, improved screening procedures and greater awareness.
Of course, in the months following Alissa’s diagnosis, her family and friends rallied around her. In fact, in January Brad posted defiantly on Facebook, “It’s time to kick some cancer’s ass. You’ve got this, Alissa!” And over the next six months Alissa made regular visits to Omaha’s Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center for treatment.
To start with, Alissa underwent two lumpectomies to remove the cancerous breast tissue. Then, following a four-week recovery period, she had to endure six rounds of chemotherapy treatment. The final session was scheduled for June 23, 2016.
But Brad was blown away by his wife’s bravery throughout her often grueling treatment. “She has amazed me with her strength, courage and positive attitude,” he wrote on Facebook. “I wanted to do something special… to show her the tremendous love and support she has.”
So it was that a plan slowly began to evolve to mark the occasion. But what started as a simple text conversation between a few friends and family members ended in a massive gesture that moved even perfect strangers to tears. “I secretly sent a text to several of Alissa’s friends and family,” Brad later explained on Facebook. “I asked them to help me surprise her by showering her in roses.”
First, Brad contacted a local florist. A single celebratory bouquet wasn’t, however, what he had in mind. No, Brad’s plan was this: allow people to purchase a single rose for a donation of $10. Then, not only would Alissa receive the roses, but a cancer charity would benefit from the profits raised, too.
So as Alissa casually chatted to her husband during her final chemo treatment, she received an overwhelming surprise. What happened? Well, in walked her two teenage daughters with four of her best friends, but they didn’t just present her with a couple of bouquets. No, Alissa was in receipt of literally hundreds of colorful roses.
As it turned out, the florist had been simply overwhelmed with orders. In fact, as word of Brad’s plan had started to spread, the local business found itself inundated with orders. Sales quickly hit the hundred mark, and then, quite rapidly, they passed 300. After 500 roses had been ordered, Brad told the bombarded flower shop that it could stop taking orders.
And so, in total, 170 families bought 500 roses in Alissa’s name. Moreover, the community managed to raise in excess of $4,500 for Susan G. Komen cancer research. As for a visibly stunned Alissa, she repeatedly exclaimed “holy moly” as box upon box of gorgeous roses were placed before her.
But what does anyone do with 500 roses? Well, Brad and Alissa decided to share the joy with the other cancer sufferers undergoing chemo that day. Naturally, then, they decided to disperse the flowers among the other patients.
As well as the beautiful flowers, though, the patients received a special note from the Bousquet family. It read, “My family would like to give you the gift of roses. I hope that they add joy to your day.” And the letter went on to explain what the community had just achieved.
The note continued, “I know too well what families face when they have a loved one touched by cancer. If there is one thing I have learned form this journey it is that the support of friends and family is priceless.”
It finished, “Please consider these roses a bit of support from our family to yours.” Brad later said that one of his favorite moments from that day was witnessing the tears of joy that came from surprised patients as they accepted his special delivery.
Alissa’s fight is not quite over yet, however, as she faces yet more surgery. But as the Bousquets continue to “kick cancer’s butt with a great attitude,” they hope that she will be cancer-free before the end of the year.
Generous strangers often dig deep to support those that are battling cancer, and there’s perhaps no one that knows this better than Greg Thomas. When Thomas was diagnosed with a terminal form of the disease, he distracted himself by fixing up an abandoned old church. But as he saved the chapel, the project may have been saving him, too. And when Thomas’ cancer showed radical improvement, it was the kindness of strangers that allowed him to make a full recovery.
Thomas lives in Montgomery, Minnesota. Now in 2009, at the age of 57, Thomas was given some terrible news. Doctors told him that he had stage-4 cancers in his neck and head – and that he would most likely die from them.
“When I found out that I had cancer they told my family to go ahead and start planning my funeral,” Thomas revealed to Minneapolis news channel K.A.R.E. 11 in 2012. “It’s almost like a nightmare that you can’t wake up out of,” he added.
And to make matters worse, Thomas then lost his job as a propane delivery man. So, in a bid to combat his stress, he began journeying into the nearby countryside where he would spend hours strolling around with his pet dog. And it was then that something caught Thomas’ attention.
Thomas had stumbled upon a crumbling old church in the middle of a prairie. Now, although the church would have been a perfectly pretty little building when it was built by Catholic Czech immigrants in 1868, by the time Thomas encountered the building it had certainly seen better days. In fact, it hadn’t been used for over 100 years. Neglected and abandoned, then, the church had slowly fallen into disrepair.
Intrigued, Thomas attempted to enter the church but found that it was all locked up. Suddenly, he had the urge to pray, so he sat down on the church steps and began to talk to God. And after that, the former delivery man couldn’t get the decaying structure out of his mind.
Later, then, Thomas returned to the area and began making enquiries with locals to learn anything he could about the building. Thomas had, in fact, spotted an opportunity. He thought that if he could help repair the church, it would take his mind off his terrible diagnosis.
“He went to a neighbor and said he wanted to paint the church and who does he talk to, so the neighbor sent him to talk to me,” Don Rynda told K.A.R.E. 11. Rynda acts as the treasurer for the foundation that attends to the church’s accompanying cemetery. He was astounded by Thomas’ offer and decided to allow him to paint the building.
So Thomas soon began work on the forgotten church. First, he stripped away more than a century’s worth of paint which was 15 layers thick in some places. However, the work was tough and was no doubt made harder by the effects of Thomas’s cancer and subsequent treatment.
“I’ve been on a feeding tube now for three years,” Thomas explained to K.A.R.E. 11. Indeed, the illness also caused him to lose his saliva glands, his teeth and much of his energy. But despite everything, Thomas was determined to restore the church to its former glory.
So, once he had finished work on the building’s exterior, he was finally able to access the inside of the church. And what he found was like a portal to another time. Yes, the 1860s interior was still very much intact and the church bell was still working.
However, despite the church’s cosmetic splendor, some structural issues needed addressing inside. Indeed, the floor was rotting, a new roof was needed and the church altar and fireplace needed some T.L.C. So, without stopping to rest, Thomas began fixing up the inside as well.
But it was then that Thomas was given news of something almost miraculous. In 2012, he was told that his cancer was in remission. So after he’d put his heart and soul into restoring the old church, Thomas was sure that this good news had been a blessing from God.
And although Thomas had been given his future back, he still continued to work on the church. “This is my way of saying thank you,” he told K.A.R.E. 11. By this point, moreover, his project to take his mind off his cancer had not only become his passion, but also his savior.
Consequently, Thomas continued working on the church until late 2015, when he was given some bad news once more. After a growth was found on his throat, Thomas was told that his cancer had returned. “It was the same cancer I had before,” he told K.A.R.E. 11 in 2016. “But now it’s in my voice box and has metastasized to the lymph nodes in my neck.”
Thomas’ only treatment option now was surgery. But even that, doctors warned, would leave him disfigured and might not be successful. Thomas subsequently decided against treatment and has since thrown himself into finishing his restoration project on the church. However, doctors warned that his cancer was moving fast, so it would be a race against the clock to get everything completed.
After learning of his story, a woman named Tracy Tomczik-Loso set up a crowdfunding campaign to help Thomas realize his dream of completing the church. Indeed, Tomczik-Loso hoped to raise enough money to help Thomas replace the eight windows in the chapel and install electrical power. “I can attest to both the beauty of the chapel, and the beauty of Greg Thomas,” she wrote on the GoFundMe page in 2016. “They are both beautiful inside and out and both have a new chapter to write.”
Meanwhile, Thomas himself wasn’t worried about what the future had in store for him. “I firmly believe He’s not done with me yet,” he told K.A.R.E. 11. “If He takes me home, He takes me home. I’m a winner either way.”
And aside from finishing the chapel, Thomas had one more final wish. He is currently enrolled in a two-year program to become a pastor with the New Day Church in New Prague. What’s more, according to Tomczik-Loso, it is his sole aim to preach in the chapel that he has spent seven years lovingly restoring.
While Thomas has been praised by many locals for his work on the chapel, the work has given him so much in return, he says. Indeed, while he was saving the church, he felt that he was also being saved – by God. As Thomas said, “It seems like while I was restoring the church, He was restoring me.”