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Knight life

Kids with cancer are transformed here, but financial woes loom

By Bella English
Globe Staff / November 28, 2009

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MARSHFIELD - The young knights are seated in high-backed chairs that circle a round table. There are replica swords, metallic tunics, and, most of all, missions to fulfill.

Sir Lexie is writing a cookbook for kids. Sir Stephanie wants to improve the environment. Sir Michael makes and sells lemonade to benefit children. Sir Ricky has collected heart-shaped rocks to build a “path of hope’’ for other children with cancer.

The knights of the Magical Moon Farm enter a fantasy world when they come to Donna Green’s place. In the real world, full of needles and biopsies, they go by their birth names. Once they step onto Green’s farm, they turn into knights. Stephanie Torres, who lives on Long Island, becomes Sir Stephanie the Strong. Lexie Williams of Lakeville becomes Sir Lexie, Legend of Love. The boy making the lemonade - Sir Michael, the Sunshine Knight - is Michael Lanosa of Fitchburg. Sir Ricky the Relentless is 11-year-old Ricky Hoffman from Scituate.

Each of the knights of the Magical Moon Farm - there are currently more than 20 - has cancer. Eight years ago Green, an artist and two-time cancer survivor, opened her home, and imagination, to them. With her own money, and with loans, donations, grants, and sweat equity from volunteers, she has built a kind of kingdom where kids can escape from the daily reality of disease.

But she’s having trouble keeping the $140,000-a-year program afloat. Families pay nothing for the services, bills have piled up, and six new knights are coming to the round table. Some of the families are planning a fund-raising concert for this winter.

Magical Moon is nothing like Don Imus’s fancy Ranch for Kids With Cancer in New Mexico, which offers one-week camps. Here, kids are invited for weekend retreats throughout the year - and they and their parents drop by regularly. The farmhouse is also where Green lives. Nor does Green have the millions that Imus was able to raise through his high-powered friends and his talk radio show. Most of her kids are local, though a few come from other states.

Step onto the farm property, and you’ll see the start of a “path of hope’’ made from heart-shaped rocks in honor of Sir Ricky. Soon his path will lead to a stone castle being built on the hill. Already there’s a fire pit for drumming ceremonies. There will be a Great Hall and a Great Wall of Strength. The fairy aerie is taking shape. A tree fort that looks like a castle, with a drawbridge, is in the works. A trapeze, butterfly cottage, peace pagoda, and Velveteen Rabbit secret garden are all on the drawing board.

Green, who illustrated an edition of her favorite tale, Margery Williams’s “The Velveteen Rabbit,’’ began making the Velveteen Rabbit’s Gift of Courage for the patients of local pediatric oncologists. Each kit contains, among other things, a plush rabbit holding an invitation to become a Knight of the Magical Moon Farm.

“If you make them knights and start having a mission, everybody says, ‘This is really cool.’ It makes them much healthier and stronger,’’ says Green, 57, who is divorced and has two grown children and a Jack Russell Terrier named Zen. “It’s not about the cancer here. It’s about the positive energy.’’

The Magical Moon Farm Foundation (www.themagicalmoonfoundation.org) is very much a grassroots organization. Volunteers built and painted the throne-like chairs. A Hanover company donated 88 tons of cut granite for the castle. A Scituate nursery gave dozens of fruit trees. High school and college students come and work in the garden or with the children. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, who lives nearby, is a supporter. Last year Green gave him a Christmas wish list, and he came down and handed out gifts.

Over the years, some knights have died - or become “angel knights’’ who have “gone to the place beyond sadness,’’ one of Green’s favorite quotes from The Velveteen Rabbit. Others knights have left for college and are now “adviser knights’’ to the younger ones.

At the end of August, the children decorated luminaries in honor of the angel knights. Senator Ted Kennedy, who had just died from a brain tumor, was included. A year earlier the knights received a response to a letter they had sent him, from his wife, Vicki.

“Ted was so honored to receive your letter and to learn that he had been named Sir Ted, The Protector Knight. We’re especially grateful for your gift of courage, knowing that you are there, protecting us,’’ she wrote. The letter was sent to Sir Michael, Knight of the Magical Sun, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor five years ago.

Lexie Williams, 11, is gathering recipes and stories from other pediatric cancer patients for her cookbook, and is raising money for cancer research. She was 3 months old when she was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor. “I think for us, any ability to empower Lexie is what it’s all about,’’ says her mother, Alice Williams. “Plus, it makes her happy and stronger.’’

Sir Stephanie “The Strong’’ Torres was diagnosed 15 years ago with a kidney tumor which spread to her lungs.

Now 17, she wants to be an oncology nurse. “When kids get cancer, they think it’s the end of the world,’’ she says. “But it’s not. It’s just the beginning. It’s just another card God gave us.’’

On a sunny Saturday, Green held a “Christmas in October’’ for Ricky Hoffman, whose cancer was in the final stage. Unable to speak, Sir Ricky the Relentless sat in his chair with the other knights and gave a thumbs-up as they discussed their projects.

In the past month, word spread about Sir Ricky’s failing health, and hundreds of heart-shaped rocks were dropped off at the farm, many with a note addressed simply to “Sir Ricky the Relentless, Knight of Reflection.’’

In early November, Ricky Hoffman died. Donna Green was there near the end, as she often is, holding parents’ and children’s hands. Near Ricky’s casket, his mother, Pat, placed his sword from the Magical Moon Farm in a large heart of white roses. The eulogy was about him reflecting love and light to all who knew him. Green is now looking for masons to help with Ricky’s Path of Peace.

For more information, go to www.themagicalmoonfoundation.org

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