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Daughter's spirit inspires

Trees of Hope helps fight blood cancer

Karen Wenzel and her husband Gene Wenzel are seen holding a statue of Tinkerbell in their home. Tinkerbell is symbolic of the couple's deceased daughter.

Karen Wenzel and her husband Gene Wenzel are seen holding a statue of Tinkerbell in their home. Tinkerbell is symbolic of the couple's deceased daughter. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Nov. 9, 2011

When Lindsay Lopez was diagnosed with leukemia, no one - not even Lindsay - thought she would do anything but beat the blood cancer.

So, when she died in November 2010, her family looked for any scrap of hope.

They found it by creating Trees of Hope WI, a Christmas tree and silent auction fundraiser that Lindsay's parents hope will become a nonprofit group supporting local patient services and research into Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and other blood cancers.

"We decided to take the most devastating loss that we ever imagined we could live through and wanted to create something beautiful from it," said Tosa's Karen Wenzel, who started Trees of Hope WI with her husband, Gene Wenzel.

But, with the fundraiser scheduled for Nov. 18 to 20, Wenzel said she finally feels like she has found purpose in her 32-year-old daughter's death.

"This is a mission," she said.

That mission began around Labor Day 2009 with a backache and flu-like symptoms.

By the end of September, Lindsay could no longer stand.

Wenzel realized what they were really dealing with after Lindsay's husband, Jason, summoned them to the hospital following an emergency room visit.

"The first sign I saw was 'oncology,' " Wenzel remembered. "I just went cold. ... You go into that slow motion, thinking, 'What kind of hell are we in?' "

Their hell was a crash course in chemotherapy, delivered directly into Lindsay's skull, and bone marrow transplants and registries, like Be The Match. Their hell was watching their daughter drift in and out remission for nearly 14 months. And their hell was learning to help a little girl - Lindsay and Jason's now 6-year-old daughter, Olivia - live without her mother.

But, while Lindsay lost her hair, she never lost her smile - or her hope.

The Wenzels hope to honor that spirit with Trees of Hope WI, which will showcase artificial Christmas trees, including some decorated with themes like Wisconsin sports. Visitors can bid on the trees, as well as silent auction packages, which will include everything from signed Brewers and Packers memorabilia to dinner at a New Berlin firehouse.

The goal is to raise money, as well as the spirits of anyone struggling to find happiness during the holidays - all in honor of Lindsay.

"I want her face and name to be synonymous with leukemia research and funding, like Susan B. Komen is for breast cancer," Wenzel said. "It's the only thing that keeps us going, that has helped us heal. ... She always had a smile. We just want to carry that forward."

If You Go

WHAT: Trees of Hope WI Festival of Trees

WHEN: Nov. 18, 19 and 20

WHERE: Brookfield Suites Hotel, 1200 S. Moorland Road

ONLINE: www.treesofhopewi.org

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