SANDUSKY, Ohio-- The sound of little footsteps scurry toward a pile of gifts Thursday morning.
They may be five months early, but Christmas couldn’t come sooner for the Bilger family.
This year, the Bilger kids: Olivia, Danielle, Lisa and Shane helped get a head start to the holiday all because of one person: their mom, Darlene.
“It’s always been mom’s favorite holiday,” said Olivia Bilger, “We start celebrating the day after Halloween. Christmas has always been a big deal ever since I can remember.”
Yet, on July 25, it was an even bigger deal for the kids, who are all grown up.
About 16 years ago, Darlene was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. She wasn’t expected to survive.
“She was given six months to live. So, I’m really happy we’ve made it these 16 years,” Olivia said.
“She did everything she could: experimental treatments, a bone marrow transplant, just anything she could do to keep extending her life,” echoed sister, Danielle.
Darlene remained cancer-free until it resurfaced 10 years later. This time, the prognosis wasn’t good. It spread to her bone, brain, liver and beyond.
The mother of four managed to stay strong for her kids.
Yet, doctors recently told the 53-year-old that now, she has days to live.
Darlene asked her family to host a final Christmas – her favorite holiday. Joined by her husband, Norman and her two grandchildren, the Bilgers opened gifts and watched Christmas movies.
Two days later, she passed away.
“She’s the strongest woman I know. She’s my hero and my best friend,” Danielle said.
Before her mother’s death, Danielle kept friends updated on Darlene’s condition on a Facebook Fan Page, Prayers for Darlene.
Soon enough, strangers were following the family’s story. With more than 600 likes, the Darlene was getting dozens of Christmas cards every day.
“I’m just amazed by it. I absolutely love the kindness. It really does warm my heart,” Olivia said.
“To know that she’s touched so many people and can hopefully help other people with cancer continue fighting, stay positive and strong just like she has; it’s indescribable. It’s an amazing feeling,” Danielle said.
There wasn’t enough mistletoe and laughter for the Bilger family on their Christmas, but when the kids said “I love you,” Danielle said her mom has the perfect answer. She always reply with, “I love you more.”
“I love you more” – that’s what family said they’ll take away during Darlene’s final days, especially during a Christmas the whole family will never forget.
Darlene will be laid to rest on Thursday.
She is survived by her husband, four children and two grandchildren.