MILLERSTOWN - Eric and Mena Noll, formerly of Millerstown are having Thanksgiving at the beach with their two boys, Bryce, 9, and Trenton, 6 1/2. Family from Juniata and Perry counties are journeying to the couple's new beach home in North Carolina's Outer Banks for turkey and trimmings and to give thanks for the family's life journey.
The move to the beach earlier this year, however, is not because of a job change or a "just because."
The family moved to live out a dream and to find appreciation in life itself.
The Noll family, formerly of Millerstown, now resides in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Trenton was diagnosed at age two with a brain tumor just behind the optic nerve of his eye. The first grader has beaten many odds, but time is still short.
"It's too short," said Mena Noll.
Mena is a 1995 graduate of East Juniata High School. Eric is a 1995 graduate of Greenwood High School. The couple met in 1998 and married on the beach in Nags Head in 2000.
"We fell in love with the Outer Banks and knew it would be where we ended up at some point in our lives; it was our dream," Mena said.
They were blessed with two baby boys and all was well in their Millerstown family life.
But there was something different about their youngest child. It was something that his mother noticed.
"It was a flicker in his eye I noticed prior to his second birthday that prompted the appointment with an ophthalmologist," Mena Noll said. "The ophthalmologist assumed it was nothing, but since there was 1 percent chance of anything else, he still ordered the MRI. May 30, 2008, has become one of those dates that you will never forget, the day our world was turned upside down and Trenton was diagnosed. The images were startling - my baby had a tumor the size of a golf ball in his brain."
The Nolls' lives changed forever.
"Unfortunately the tumor was unable to be removed due to the location. The tumor surrounded his optic nerve as well as his pituitary gland and other important areas of the brain, making any operation life threatening," she said, noting they did not realize Trenton was blind in the right eye and had limited vision in the left eye.
For the past four and half years Trenton has undergone all types of cancer treatments including experimental drugs. In October 2009, Trenton had to have emergency surgery to sustain his life. It was during that surgery he suffered a stroke.
"Overcoming the odds, he learned to talk, walk and relearn everyday functions all while enduring harsh chemo(therapy). It was the roughest time in our lives. It was only God who could pull me through those dark days," Mena said.
Almost two years later, the Nolls were given more bad news. Despite treatment, Trenton's tumor again progressed and there were no longer any conventional treatments available. Due to the long term effects from the emergency surgery, radiation and surgery would not be an option either.
"Eric and I began to research and found an experimental drug call Afinitor. The doctors allowed it, but cautioned to be prepared that Trenton may have very limited time left. We prayed he would survive until Christmas, and he did."
That was a year ago.
Since then the Nolls have make life changing decisions for the sake of limited time.
"After four years we decided that it was time for a change, time for us to not let cancer hold us back," Mena said. "When we looked through family photos we saw the biggest and best smiles on our faces when we were at the beach. It was our favorite place to be. It was our dream to be there not just once a year, but anytime of the year. We wanted our kids to get to live out our dream and, as if it were God's plan, it all happened so simply."
The Nolls sold their home here and found the perfect house in the Outer Banks. Trenton became a patient at King's Daughters Children's Hospital in Virginia.
Last month the doctors there determined Trenton's tumor was once again actively growing and treatment options were exhausted.
Mena said they are thankful every day as if every moment is Thanksgiving.
"We are quite aware that the odds for Trenton surviving are not in his favor, but we have something cancer cannot take away - faith. Trenton has overcome so many things that medical professionals didn't feel he would. Trenton has showed so many people how important it is to enjoy life and praise God. He is our constant reminder that prayers can be answered."
Trenton is excited for the actual holiday to arrive and shares his thankfulness. He most appreciates God, family, the beach and his dog Bella, he told his mom.
Mena said the family is decorating a "Thankful Tree." Each person in attendance may put a note on it telling what they are thankful for this year.
"I can't say that I am thankful that Trenton has cancer, but I can say I am thankful for the lessons it has taught me over the years. I know that there is always a positive in every situation, you just have to look for it. God always has a reason for everything. Our family has become only stronger, more loving, and more appreciative through it all. "
The Nolls have a support system back home through family, Facebook and friends. But, she said, not everyone understood why they would "drop everything" for life on the beach.
"Most people thought we were crazy to pick up and move, but we had a dream and went for it," Mena said. "The best part about having a dream is actually living it. This Thanksgiving I am truly thankful for time ... God has blessed us with so much of it with our children. I think all too often we forget that the time we have here is not a given."