They met only eight weeks ago, but Amber and Dale Newman know they have a friend for life in Anne Kappa.
The Newmans and their two young children left their home in Australia in November so Dale could begin treatment for his brain tumor at the Northwestern Medicine Chicago Proton Center in Warrenville.
Through an online support group, Kappa, a Glen Ellyn mom, referred Amber to the proton center where she received the same specialized therapy for her brain tumor two years ago.
But they have bonded over far more than a health crisis.
Kappa welcomed the Newmans into her own home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She ran errands with the family and helped them find some normalcy. And on Wednesday, when the center hosted a "graduation" ceremony ahead of Dale's last treatment session, Kappa was, of course, there to celebrate.
"We'll be friends forever," Amber Newman said.
Her husband will finish his treatment Friday and then the family will head to Disneyland before returning home to Adelaide. In January, he will undergo a brain scan to determine his prognosis and whether he needs more treatment.
But until they get those results, the Newmans are trying to stay positive, focusing on the support they have received from Kappa.
"Some days, we've forgotten why we're here," Amber Newman said.
The Newmans credit those moments to Kappa, who helped plan sightseeing trips around Chicago and the suburbs and asked the family if they wanted to spend the holidays together.
"We'd thought we'd be on our own stuck in a motel room," Dale Newman said.
Instead, Kappa wanted them to enjoy Christmas with her extended family.
"I have children. Their kids are going to be away from their home on Christmas," Kappa, 46, said. "How hard is that? And they're away from their family. Who wouldn't do that?"
Over the summer, she messaged back and forth with Amber about their holiday plans and what to expect from proton therapy.
The treatment is designed to target tumors more precisely than standard X-ray radiation, but it's not yet available in Australia. Two years after she completed the sessions, Kappa has no visible signs of a tumor in her brain.
"I was lucky enough to have this in my backyard," she said of the proton center. "And I couldn't imagine if I had to go there alone and not know anybody."
But over the past eight weeks, she only talked about Dale's treatment "in passing."
"You can't dwell on this. This is a certain moment in your day, and the rest of your day, there's so many other things that you can do and remember those. You don't need to remember this," Kappa said. "I tried to make my day and my life not about this. Not that I'm in denial. I understand it completely. But it's not who I am. It's what I have, but it's not who I am."
So at the graduation ceremony Wednesday, Kappa and the Newmans remembered the moments that took their minds off the tumor doctors discovered in Dale's brain in 2015.
They reminisced about the first time their kids, Josh, 11, and Ella, 8, saw snow. Their parents talked about the new friends they met at Bower Elementary in Warrenville, where the Newman children kept up on their schoolwork away from home.
"As hard as it was, as financially draining as it is, I think it's the best thing we ever did," said Amber Newman, who's hoping a GoFundMe page will continue to raise funds for Dale's medical expenses.
The graduation ceremony left her husband "blown away." He received the center's version of a challenge coin, a military honor, that deemed him graduate No. 3,412. And he enjoyed lamington cake, an Australian chocolate and coconut desert that Jennifer Jefferis, the center's clinical intake coordinator ordered from a specialty bakery.
"They're very sweet, and it just felt right helping them out," said Jefferis, who collected Dale's medical records from Australia and helped his family find temporary housing near the proton center.
Kappa will drop the Newmans off at the airport Sunday for what Amber knows will be a "bittersweet" farewell. But she's already planning to extend the hospitality that Kappa gave to her family.
"I can tell you now, they'll be visitors in Australia," she said.