Dana Dirkes’ life was rocked in July when she was very quickly and surprisingly diagnosed with Large B Cell Lymphoma after a routine doctor’s visit for a persistent dry cough.
A doctor’s visit that turned into a week’s worth of continuing bad news.
Standing in the diaper aisle of a Target with her kids when that first piece of bad news came in, she imagined they must have given her someone else’s test results.
She didn’t feel bad enough for this.
She had spent the prior week at zoo camp with her two boys, active and busy as ever.
A mom of a 5-year-old and a fresh little bundle of joy only five months old, Dana was your average “on the go” mom who juggled her two boys, a husband and dog, and her full-time job as an elementary school teacher.
“How is that even possible with a collapsed lung and cancer?” she thought.
But indeed, it was.
As Dana began chemotherapy treatments within days of the diagnosis, news spread quickly throughout her tight-knit community, and she was quick to take to Facebook to share the news.
Within days, the support Dana and her family received was overwhelming to say the least.
It began as texts, messages, flowers and cards of support and encouragement, and quickly turned into meal trains, housekeeping and landscaping services, and tangible gifts like prayer shawls and chemo caps.
Dana and her family continued to be overwhelmed with the love and support they were receiving, and her personal Facebook account turned into an outlet for thanking their many friends and family members, and posting updates of her treatments and health.
Early on, Dana began posting specific prayer requests so her many friends could be more detailed in their prayer time.
A few of the earliest were for her young son, Abram, to adjust to formula easily since she would have to stop breastfeeding immediately, and for her 5-year-old, Quin, to better adjust to the news and changes taking place.
He was greatly struggling with understanding why his mommy was always feeling ill, had to be in the hospital for days at a time, and would soon lose her hair. All structure that a young child requires and craves was gone in those first few weeks after the diagnosis, and Quin’s little mind was in a state of upheaval, with his emotions and behavior right behind.
Despite all the kid-friendly talk in the world, and all of the love and attention Dana’s husband and extended family could give Quin, he was struggling.
And then something happened.
Dana and her husband found a large Batman balloon attached to their mailbox one morning with a note.
Entertained, they brought it in and read the note as Quin happily grabbed the balloon. The note was made out to Quin, and explained the writer had heard his mommy was sick and he might need some cheering up. It went on to tell him he could keep the balloon for himself, or he could give it to his mom. And it was signed simply, The Balloon Bopper.
Dana and her husband, Michael, were humored and humbled at the sweet gesture, and loved the genuine smile and pick-me-up it brought Quin.
And then, one week later, another balloon showed up. And then, a week later, another.
Now, some three-and-a-half months later, they find a balloon tied to their mailbox once a week. They each include small toys or trinkets, candy, or notes referencing things going on in Quin’s life.
And with each new balloon, and each week, Dana and Michael watch their son’s enthusiasm and fascination over this mystery act of kindness grow into what can only be described as a giddy obsession.
Quin now wakes every morning and runs to the front door and into the yard before he even puts shoes on, checking the mailbox.
Dana began posting about “The Balloon Bopper” on her Facebook page, and the likes, loves, and comments expressing how absolutely amazing this small gesture was began rolling in.
And while this mysterious “Balloon Bopper” has yet to reveal him or herself to the Dirkes family, Dana and Michael can only express their gratitude for this continued small act of kindness via Facebook and word of mouth.
Dana says she watched her son go from a confused, upset, and generally down-trodden child to the normal happy, carefree, and innocent kid he should be.
With a weekly side of pure joy and fascination thrown in.
And she says she knows “The Balloon Bopper” was a massive part of his transition.
“It was the perfect distraction for Quin,” she says.
“And for all of us,” she adds, looking at her husband emotionally.
Hoping “The Balloon Bopper” will reveal his or her identity at the end of her chemotherapy treatments, Dana wishes to bring the person on board to help her collect money through GoFundMe so she and others can be “Balloon Boppers” for additional children of parents going through cancer and other difficult diagnoses.
“I feel like God gave me this diagnosis to make a difference in others’ lives and I believe The Balloon Bopper has given me my first opportunity,” Dana says.
“I’m hoping this is just one way I can pay it forward for other families who are going through what we are going through, and I owe this mystery person so much.”
And while it is mentally killing the Dirkes family to not know who is doing the “bopping” and they yearn to express their gratitude in person one day soon, she admits that the secret is half the fun.
So as Dana continues chemotherapy until at least November, and Quin begins running into the snow barefoot searching for his weekly balloons, Dana plans to cherish the entire experience.
And she hopes that sharing her story will remind anyone and everyone in the world how truly impactful one small act of kindness can be for a person, a family, and hopefully, countless future families.
Because that balloon they spot flying in the wind on their mailbox signifies one thing to the Dirkes family each time they see it . . .
And isn’t that all we really need?