Cheryl Rose knew the two-night event wasn't finding a cure. So, in that sense, was it worth it?
The wife of BYU basketball coach Dave Rose asked a niece of hers, who had a young daughter die from a brain tumor, whether an annual Christmas-time dinner was "making a difference" in the lives of young cancer victims and their families.
It was, the relative replied, and it will continue to based on participation at the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation. It's helped over 1,000 families since Mac Boyter -- himself a cancer survivor -- founded the charity designed to provide some normalcy and a support system for children and their families.
"You have children here that can't see us, can't hear us," Boyter said. "But they can feel us."
The men's basketball team kept its stake in the tradition, taking part in the pizza-and-gifts event Wednesday as well, playing games and asking how the kids were doing. Meanwhile, the Roses walked around the room not the least bit interested in talking hoops.
About 100-150 families showed up to the Vivint-offices gymnasium in Provo, a gathering Boyter affectionately called "organized chaos."
It's a get-together that takes all year to create, and it's been going on (and growing) since 1997.
Boyter noted that Tuesday night also included a dinner for only the parents, where they could also pinpoint gifts that their children would appreciate taking home the next night. "Normalcy" is a word Boyter and his crew of volunteers strive to give the families, if only for hours.
For Lee Hutchings and his wife, Janice, it meant being around families that knew exactly what they were encountering on a daily basis — medicines, appointments, hopes and fears. Their 15-year-old son, Jacob, was celebrating his most recent birthday, enjoying dessert and just being a teenager. Lee noted that it was nice to "not be a target" of attention for things like the wheelchair; to not draw attention to themselves like so many public situations.
They were just another family.
And Jacob has fond memories of former BYU basketball player Charles Abouo, who befriended him last year and lifted him so that he could dunk a basketball.
Dave Rose asks his players to step outside of their comfort zone — competitive, tunnel-visioned and athletic young men who often aren't accustomed to interacting with young children that physically don't have as much going for them. Rose wants them "to get down on their level," kneeling and looking the kids in the eyes to ask how they're doing; what they want for Christmas.
His players respond. Rose, talking about the event, smiles at the sight.
"It never fails," Rose said. "Every year, one of the guys really connects with one of the kids."
Point guard Craig Cusick said it was valuable to participate, in part to get his mind off final exams this week. Some of the children have been participating in the foundation's dinner for nearly five years. And some, players are made aware solemnly, may not make the next holiday party.
"This is more important than any schooling or games we play," the senior Cusick said.
Team staffer Mike Hall, who knows this event as both a young and intimidated player, and now as a father, noted that a few players were able to rearrange finals so they could still participate. Hall himself has a whole new admiration for what the parents must be feeling, but also what the kids want.
"I try to make the kids laugh, and harass them a little bit. I treat them like they have no sickness, because at the end of the day they want to be treated just like anyone else," Hall said while carrying around one of his young kids.
Boyter and the Roses appreciate talking to media about the event. Federal laws make it hard to find information on all of the young, local children afflicted by cancer. Therefore, they're eager to reach out to get word-of-mouth interest.
It's an emotional night for all involved. Cheryl Rose can think about Abouo's impact with some of the kids, or turn her head and see a bunch of burly basketball players acting like little kids, and wearing Santa hats to boot.
And Cheryl Rose knows the party must go on. Her niece told her so.
"She said, 'you will never understand how it feels to carry that burden...then see the goodness of total strangers....'you've got to keep doing this,'" Rose said.
Donations to CCCF can be made by visiting childrenwithcancerchristmasfoundation.org.