It was the kind of day that most people could only dream of. Renee Deal A Day Hancock had closed four timeshare vacations deals with her clients before noon on Oct. 6, 2005. She was having a great day on the job.
Her bosses were so impressed that they let her leave her Las Vegas sales office early. She headed out to Olive Garden to meet a friend for lunch.
Shortly after noon, a drunk driver headed the wrong way hit her car, leaving her disabled and unemployed.
I had to have three levels of my neck replaced. I had to learn how to walk again, talk again, write again, everything like from kindergarten, said Hancock, who later relocated to South Florida to be near relatives.
Even before that accident, Hancock, 46, had some major health challenges. A month after her son Sean was born in 2001, she was diagnosed with the first of two kinds of cancers - cervical and ovarian cancer. Now she is in the fourth year of treatments for kidney cancer. As of July, she has had more than two dozen surgeries related to her different illnesses.
Despite it all, Hancock still has more smiles than frowns and often finds a way to make jokes. And that has helped her overall health immensely, said her cardiologist, Dr. Leonard Pianko.
When patients have multiple problems at once, an upbeat spirit goes a long way.
Everyones dealt a different hand, some better some worse, but optimism goes a long way, Pianko said. Its hard to prove in a laboratory, but it helps.
Hancock is comforted by the quick wit of her 12-year-old son, who was born with an enlarged heart and suffers from ADD. The seventh grader at Highland Oaks Middle excels at math and loves playing games on the family computer.
I would probably have given up by now if I was completely alone, because its not easy, Hancock said. If I didnt have him, if I didnt see his face every single day, I dont think that Id be able to keep trying sometimes.
The two now live in a one-bedroom apartment in North Miami Beach, complete with a fish tank filled with Christmas decorations so the familys 4-month-old cat Missy wont scratch them up.
We live strictly on disability, said Hancock, who is divorced from Seans father. We were getting child support but were no longer getting that,
Hancock remains in touch with Seans paternal grandmother, but most of her support comes from her family in South Florida. Her brother, Mitchell Berkman, 50, helped Renee, Sean and their dad move from Nevada when they could no longer receive proper care.
He showed up with a truck and said, youre leaving, said Hancock.
They moved to Sunny Isles Beach in 2008 in a three-bedroom apartment with her father, Sydney Berkman, 74. But when her dad was placed in an assisted living facility, her income took a hit and they could not longer afford the Sunny Isles Beach address.
Berkman said that before Hancock moved to Florida he was not as close to his sister. Now, he admires her dedication and spirit in making sure she and her son got what they needed.
Nobody in their right mind would have kept going, but [she] kept strong and said Im not taking no for an answer, Berkman said. We rub the lamp and somehow that genie is still inside granting wishes.
When it comes to their latest wish, Hancock struggled to describe what she wanted for her and Sean. She spent years selling people timeshares and dream vacations, but said she has never taken a vacation of her own.
What I did was, I sold my dream. I went in and sold what I wanted to do, said Hancock.
Because she and Sean lived near the beach when they first moved to South Florida, they have an affinity for the water.
And that has partially inspired their wish.
The Hancocks want to take a trip to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, or go on a Disney cruise line. Sean added that he would love to swim with dolphins, while Renee wants to mark snorkeling and scuba diving off her bucket list.
I would love to go on a vacation with my son, some time that we could say was bonding and fun, with no doctors, Hancock said. Its always fighting to get something. Its doctors, and school. Thats what our life is.
Karin Dryer, of Big Brother Big Sisters of Greater Miami, said she nominated Renee because she was a stand-out parent who wasnt, bitter and angry at life.
Shes very responsive and very diligent with everything, said Dryer, a relationship management specialist. She is not a victim. She mentioned in conversation that she and Sean had never been on a trip.
When Dryer suggested it as a wish, Hancock said it would be unbelievable for such a wish to come true.
Beyond the trip, her real wishes are seeing Sean succeed and helping others who suffer with multiple ailments.
Since she cant work anymore, Hancock wants to start a nonprofit website one day that consults experts to give tips on how to get proper healthcare for those having financial issues.
But, right now, her son keeps her going.
At least Im here to see this and thats the best part of all of it, she said.