My name is Tom Pate, a volunteer Host from Albany, Georgia. I want to share the really WILD set of circumstances and “coincidences” that God pulled off to get Anna Wilkerson’s Catch-A-Dream trip put together, and to have me involved as her Host. This beats anything that I have witnessed in my entire life!
In the summer of 2009 my son had been hammering me to make a return trip tuna fishing on the oil rigs in La. with his step-brother and our buddies. I finally relented and he called over and got our captain’s only open dates booked, the last weekend in September, 2009. Around the end of August, Catch-A-Dream called to ask if I could host a bear hunt in Wisconsin at the same ranch where I had served as Host on a hunt in 2008. My heart fell when they told me that the dates were the same as our planned tuna trip! I sadly told my contact at Catch-A-Dream that I could not let my son and step-son down, and that I hated to do it but I would have to pass on the Wisconsin trip. I did tell him that I would be glad to take whatever the next trip was that he needed a host for.
He asked if I would like to host a cow elk hunt in October in the mountains of northern Arizona, for a young man in a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy, and I agreed to do so. Well, we had a great hunt in Arizona, and on the second day got Lane his cow elk, and spent all day getting it to the processor, visiting the taxidermist, and sightseeing. After dark, we had begun the hour long drive back to the outfitter’s home for supper, from NOWHERE in the remote mountains of north Arizona, and young Lane, the hunter says he sure is hungry, could we stop and eat in a restaurant? Well, there wasn’t even a light anywhere around, much less a restaurant, and the outfitter’s wife was cooking supper, but the outfitter remembered a town about 20 miles away that had a small cafe there with about 6 tables that might be open. So off we went, and sure enough they were open. Well, the only hunting season that was open was a youth elk season, so when we got Lane into his wheelchair, and into the cafe, there were two other tables occupied with kids and parents in camo.
At one particular table was a young girl with her dad, and she had NO HAIR! As soon as I noticed this something told me “Boy, go talk to that bald girl” as I knew she must be pretty sick. As I stopped by to speak to them, I could not help but notice that she had a smile that literally lit up the room! We exchanged small talk about the elk hunting, and introduced our selves, and I had to ask “Anna, if you don’t mind my being nosy, what happened to your hair?” She explained that she was undergoing chemo and radiation therapy. I asked what illness they were treating, and I felt like I had been punched in the gut when she said “Ewing’s Sarcoma.” I did not know much about Ewing’s, but I knew it was tough. I asked if they minded if I sat down and talked with them for a minute or two, and they were so gracious and open. I shared with them that I was a trip Host for a foundation called Catch-A-Dream that took kids with life threatening illnesses on dream hunting and fishing trips, and told Anna that we would love the opportunity to review an application from her if she was interested. She was so excited and kept telling her dad to “… listen daddy, listen daddy!” Then she got sort of quiet and said, “You guys probably don’t go on buffalo hunting trips, do you?.” I told her that if that was her dream trip, and she qualified for Catch-A-Dream, we could possibly make it happen. We exchanged cards, and hugs, and information on where they could go to fill out all of the applications and forms. As our outfitter and I left the cafe that evening we agreed that Anna HAS to be a Christian; the smile and joy she seemed to have could not come from an elk hunt with dad or anyone else. Sure enough, when we got back to his house, we went to her Caringbridge website, and God and Jesus Christ was all over it!
Well, over the next few months we corresponded, and I learned the other side of God’s unique power in putting us together into that restaurant. I told Anna’s dad, Donnie, how remarkable that it was that we were even in that cafe, and that if she had even had a hat on all of this probably would not have even happened, and it was then that God blew my socks off! Donnie said:
“Tom, you only know half of the power that God used to put us together! I had been out of work for a while, and had just landed a new job, but I had promised Anna that between chemo and radiation we would go camp out in the national forest and try to get her an elk. We had more food than 4 folks could have eaten in a week, and we were only going to be there for a few nights. We had brought several pounds of shrimp to boil that night for supper, and when we got ready to cook them, we discovered that we didn’t have any ketchup. We decided to make the 5 mile drive into the small town to buy ketchup, and as we drove past this small cafe, something just told me to splurge, and go inside and order dinner just this one night!” At that point I realized that NONE of us was supposed to even be in that town that night, much less in that cafe, both with kids with life threatening illnesses, and a love for the Lord, and a love for hunting!!
Well, Anna did apply, and Catch-A-Dream worked the special magic that they work. The the trip came together, and I was privileged to be asked to Host Anna, her dad and mom, on a buffalo hunt on the Flying D Ranch, near Bozeman, Montana. From the time I met Anna and her folks at the airport in Bozeman, to the time I put them on the plane back to Phoenix, Anna did not miss out on anything that came her way for 5 days. She was into every hot tub, pool, snow drift, taxidermy shop, store, breaking off icicles, making snow angels, not missing a thing! She showed a love for life and an appreciation for God’s small gifts to us in this world that I hope that I can emulate!
This is a 13 year old girl that has her left arm socket and shoulder blade removed, and had very little use of her left arm at all. She had a year of chemo and radiation on that shoulder, and 5 months later the Ewing’s came back in her spine. She endured 2 years of chemo and radiation for her spine. Shortly after her trip scans showed that those tumors had been killed, and that her back was healing. Her dad, Donnie, and I had several late night heart to heart talks, and that man cried his heart out to me. He just HATED to see his little girl in pain! We just had a magical, very blessed time on this trip. We spent a day on a snow coach tour of Yellowstone Park, and then went back to Bozeman for the closing ceremony and presentations. At the end of everything, Donnie asked for the floor, and poured out his heart between the tears of gratitude to everyone involved (including our Father.) For some reason everyone in the room, from the outfitters, to the guides, to the trip host was having the same problem with “allergies,” and all eyes were watering!!
When we got to the airport the next morning, and I had to say goodbye to this precious Christian family that I had spent the last 4-5 days with, I thought my heart would burst. When little Anna threw her arms around me and said, “Mr. Tom, cancel your flight, and come home with us to Phoenix,” I could not help but laugh though the tears!
Upon returning home, I got feedback from the folks in Montana, that they thought that this was the most captivating young lady they had ever met. I have been blessed to have met some really special people in my life, but this girl just may be the most special person that I have EVER met. She drew people to her like moths to a light. I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I really feel that the Hand of God was upon her. There are many stories of “miracles” in her life. But her cancer did return, and she bravely fought through the grueling months that ensued.
In late November, 2010, I was at a loss for words when I got “the call” that Anna had succumbed to this horrid thing called cancer. Now, at last, she could rest and forevermore soar on her newly sprouted “EAGLE’S WINGS.” I was reminded of just how important the Catch-A-Dream vision and mission truly is….the vision of sharing God’s great promise found in Isaiah 40:31; the promise that if we place our hope in Him, then we WILL soar on wings like eagles, and we WILL run and not grow weary, and we WILL walk and not be faint. Our Anna was not able to do that on this earth in her frail and cancer ridden body, but I am confident that God has fulfilled His promise to her, and she now soars and runs and walks as she pleases….with Him!
This is a great example of God’s faithfulness and how He will work in our lives if we just let Him have just a little bit of our selves! I know it has changed my life, and has just been a great experience for me, and as always, I GOT lots more than the little bit that I gave! The only thing that I lost was a piece of my heart to this very special young lady, but I gained the friendship of a wonderful Christ-filled family and new found faith in the God we serve!