From left, Dominic, Giulian, Perla, Gemma and Lisa Cardillo, of Macomb Township, are in their fourth year of giving during the holidays. They were on the receiving end in 2014 when Dominic was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

From left, Dominic, Giulian, Perla, Gemma and Lisa Cardillo, of Macomb Township, are in their fourth year of giving during the holidays. They were on the receiving end in 2014 when Dominic was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Photo provided by Lisa Cardillo

Macomb Township family participates in giving project

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published December 17, 2019


MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The Cardillo family is at it again — celebrating improved health and not turning their backs on people facing what they formerly experienced.

For the fourth year, Dominic, 39, and Lisa Cardillo, 38, of Macomb Township, are on the giving end of their own version of the 25 Days of Christmas. They were on the receiving end in 2014.

“We chose to do 12 Days of Christmas again for two brain cancer families from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit,” Lisa said.

Each family received 12 gifts.

Dominic was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May 2014. Lisa had a sudden heart attack in March 2017, going into cardiac arrest. At the time of Dominic’s diagnosis, the couple had three children under the age of 7.

“We’ve gathered such an amazing group of friends and family that help us everywhere, and it’s become expected that this is what we’re going to do,” Lisa said. “For me, it took receiving such an act of kindness to realize how much it means. Giving that to other people is really important to me.”

Around 25 volunteers, from Macomb and Oakland counties, helped with donating gifts and wrapping presents.

Lisa said that unfortunately, one of the patients entered hospice care in late October, so the Cardillos had to speed up the project, bringing the family from Manitou Beach Christmas gifts about 48 hours before the patient died.

“It was right before Halloween, so we brought HalloThankMas — Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas all together — we had Halloween stuff, Thanksgiving dinner, and a Christmas tree and lights,” she said.

The brain cancer patient was 42 and had been diagnosed in May 2014, the same week Dominic was diagnosed. Lisa said the mother also had breast cancer.

“It was very bittersweet and totally worth it,” Lisa said. “It was difficult a week later to be going to her funeral after just delivering it.”

The second family, which received gifts the week of Dec. 9, is from Oakland Township.

“We hope people will pay it forward and realize that even though people go through hard times, there are still people around that care,” Dominic said. “It’s something we love to do.”

Last year, the Cardillos sent gifts to two families — one in Macomb Township and one in Stanton, Iowa.

The Hopfs, of Iowa, are paying it forward this year and surprising one family from Omaha, Nebraska, with their own 12 Days of Christmas.

Crystal Hopf, 42, and Lisa were both in a Facebook group for spouses of brain cancer patients. In September 2018, Hopf’s husband, Brian, died at the age of 41.

Brian and Dominic were diagnosed two months apart. Both families have three children.

“Last year when we were on the receiving end, we were so touched and grateful that someone would be so generous,” Crystal Hopf said. “It was a difficult Christmas without my husband, and we were still in shock when Christmas came along.”

It meant so much to the Hopfs that they couldn’t wait to share with another family.

“Everything in your life is different the first Christmas after a diagnosis,” Hopf said. “It’s hard to make Christmas special for the children when you’re in shock and grieving yourself.”   

When asked to describe how it makes her feel knowing that families around America facing health problems are taking part in the giving project, Lisa said she’s giddy.

“It gives me goosebumps,” she said. “You don’t understand unless you’ve received that, and how random acts of kindness can impact the rest of your life. It’s great that other families who are struggling get to feel pure joy in a time where they probably haven’t felt a lot of joy.”     

Dominic had a craniotomy — the surgical removal of part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain — and went through chemotherapy and radiation.

The cause of Lisa’s heart attack was a tear in the lining of an artery that supplies the heart, known as SCAD.

Dominic had a grand mal seizure in his sleep, and within an hour of being at the hospital learned that he had a brain tumor.

In early December, Dominic and Lisa received clean bills of health from their specialists. Instead of going every six months — Dominic for a brain MRI, and Lisa for a cardiology checkup — they now go every nine months.