KITTERY, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - A family was able to find comfort and support during their darkest days at a camp in Maine.
Now they are paying that back by helping others, in memory of their daughter who passed away after a courageous fight against cancer.
Lydia Valdez was a bright, smart, fun loving girl.
“From the time she was very small, she was always the life of the party. She came in, you knew she was there. She loved to dress up, she loved to put on shows”, said her step-mother Mona Valdez.
Around the time she turned 8-years old, something was wrong. She wasn’t sleeping, instead having terrible headaches and experiencing night terrors. Then came the news that turned the Valdez’s world upside down. A lump, the size of a lime, was discovered behind Lydia’s ear. It was a rare form of cancer and the prognosis was dire. Despite that the family remained positive.
“I didn’t believe she was going to die. I believed she was going to live through this”, said her father Luis Valdez.
Lydia didn’t let the cancer or the treatments slow her down. She lived life to the fullest.
“Whether it was going to York Animal Kingdom or the beach, she wanted to keep doing what she normally did, she never thought of herself as sick”, said her stepmom.
For two years she fought her illness.
“It was like a nightmare everyday living through that, it was painful to go through. That extended for like the last two years. It felt like an eternity”, said her father.
Even in her final days, it was Lydia who was staying strong for the family.
“She was losing her eyesight and really having a hard time and when her dad would weep, she would still say to him, dad don’t cry. She would pat him on the back and say don’t cry”, said Mona.
During the worst time of their lives the Valdez’s found something they desperately needed at a retreat for children with life threatening illnesses and their families in Maine.
“It’s such a loving and caring environment. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. They provide almost a cocoon of, it’s going to be alright, just come, it’s going to be okay and you forget everything you’re involved in", said Mona.
The experience at Camp Sunshine in Casco was life changing for Mona and Luis Valdez.
“It so impacted me, that I’ll remember it for the rest of my life, and what I could do to provide that for somebody else. It taught me that”, said Mona.
That led Mona to an old friend after Lydia passed away, and an idea was born. Lydia’s House of Hope in Somersworth, New Hampshire, is a place for homeless families.
“And not just to shelter them, but a home. And it feels like that when you walk into that house”, said Mona.
As you enter the house into the common area, the wall is adorned with Lydia’s photos and drawings. For the adults that stay here, there is an entire program to help them get education, find employment and eventually break the cycle of homelessness. For the Valdez’s, it's a place where the spirit of their daughter lives on.
“In spite of losing Lydia, this helps us heal and to go on knowing we’re doing something good in her memory”, said Mona.
Each year the Valdez’s give back by holding fundraisers at their restaurant in Kittery, Loco Coco's Tacos, with proceeds going to Camp Sunshine and Make a Wish in both Maine and New Hampshire. If you’d like more information about Lydia’s House of Hope, or to donate, go to seedsoffaithnh-dot-org.