By Ashley Patoka, Fort Drum MEDDACMay 14, 2015
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 14, 2015) -- For Mother's Day this year, one Fort Drum spouse was given the opportunity of a lifetime: an invitation to attend the annual White House Mother's Day Tea on May 8.
Michele Bajakian, wife of Lt. Col. Todd Bajakian, commander of 3rd Battalion, 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, Warrior Transition Battalion Fort Drum, received her invitation about a week before the event from the Fisher House Foundation.
"The Fisher House was able to invite a couple of people this year to the White House Mother's Day Tea," Michele Bajakian said. "They called me and said they would like to invite me to attend. I took that as a tremendous honor."
Five years ago, while her Family was station in Germany, Bajakian first learned of the Fisher House Foundation when her husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
"We would go and visit my husband while he was being treated at (Landstuhl Regional Medical Center), and since it was a long drive, we would stay at the Fisher House," Bajakian said.
While at LRMC, Todd Bajakian went through chemotherapy and radiation. After the treatment, the Family had high hopes that that would be the end of their battle. But it wasn't long after, during a checkup, that they received the news they were dreading -- the cancer had returned.
It was then that Todd Bajakian was moved to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C, for continued treatment, and Michele Bajakian, with her children, packed up their house in Germany and made the trip as well.
"When we arrived stateside we had nothing -- no place to stay, no idea what was going to happen with my husband -- so we were scared," Bajakian said. "So once again, the Fisher House was there, and they took great care of us. We stayed there for about a month and never had to worry about paying for rent -- they were our family."
Ever since then, Bajakian has been running in the Marine Corps Marathon for Team Fisher House. Each year, she raises money for the organization that helped her and her Family through a difficult time.
"Here is this foundation that helped us out so much four years ago," Bajakian said, "and all we have been doing since then is trying to pay them back in whatever way we can."
So when Bajakian received that call from the Fisher House Foundation asking her to be their representative at the White House event, she was amazed.
"It was pretty incredible to be recognized at such a high level by an organization I hold so high," she said.
The Mother's Day Tea, hosted by first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, honored military mothers.
There were about 180 guests who attended the event, including women in the military who are mothers, military spouses, Gold Star mothers and military children. During the event, the children had a special opportunity to make a Mother's Day craft.
It was during this time that Hannah Bajakian, who attended the event with her mother, was able to talk one-on-one with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, according to Bajakian.
"She got to share a little of herself with Mrs. Obama, and according to Hannah, Mrs. Obama was very engaging and kind and listened to what (she) had to say," Bajakian said. "Hannah was also brave enough to ask Mrs. Obama if she could take a selfie of the two of them -- that was the highlight for her."
For Michele Bajakian, the highlight of the day was having the opportunity to have tea and talk with other guests on the balcony that overlooks the South lawn.
But more so, what made this the best Mother's Day gift for her happened during the receiving line when each guest was able to individually meet Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.
"One of the greatest things a mother can be told is how wonderful her daughter is, and when we went through the receiving line, Mrs. Obama recognized Hannah and remembered her name," Bajakian said.
"When it was my turn to meet Mrs. Obama, she said she wanted to tell me that (Hannah) is a wonderful girl and it was a pleasure to meet her," she continued. "So of course, as a mother, that can make your heart soar; that was the best Mother's Day gift."
The event also included a special musical performance from Ben Folds and remarks from the hostesses.
"They talked to us about their appreciation of what military Families go through," Bajakian said. "It was so nice to hear that they understand as much as they do about what it is like for us."
Michele Bajakian is currently preparing for her next marathon as part of Team Fisher House, and her husband has been cancer-free for four years. She said she is just really appreciative for the opportunity.
"I am very appreciative of how receptive, open and caring Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden were to all the military moms who were there," she said. "I am very thankful for that and to be asked to go to the White House as a representative of the Fisher House."