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Heyl: Family thankful for today, and ones that follow

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 11:03 p.m.
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Trey, Bella and Joe Mitlo of Penn Hills

Jay Mitlo insists that he and his family are blessed. The words startle.

They aren't what one would anticipate hearing from someone whose 5-year-old son is terminally ill. But Mitlo, 43, of Penn Hills values preconceived notions about as much as he values pity and sympathy for his situation — very minimally.

“Everyone has their own story. Everyone suffers,” he said. “My heart breaks for all the people who pretend like nothing ever is wrong, like they always have it all together. My heart breaks for them because they're lying.”

The harsh truth for Trey Mitlo, of which he remains mercifully unaware, is this: He has lived longer with a cancer diagnosis than he lived before receiving one. He has had all the standard treatments for the disease. Doctors say he probably has only months to live.

Difficult days are ahead. Before they occur, Mitlo and his wife, Rachel, want to provide a week of fun for Trey and his two older siblings.

“We want him and Joe and Bella to just be normal and laugh and live a little,” he said. “We don't want their next memory of Trey to be that of him dying. We're not ready for that.”

Two years ago, Trey visited Disney World in Orlando, Fla., an opportunity the Make-a-Wish program made possible. Jay and Rachel want him to experience that again, with his brother and sister, but Disney vacations aren't exactly as inexpensive as a weekend trip to Erie's Splash Lagoon.

So two weeks ago, the Mitlos started a fundraising campaign at FundAnything.com. They sought to raise $8,000, which they figured was enough to pay for a week for the family at Disney.

“The response was unbelievable,” Mitlo said. “It was humbling, and at times it was comical, how much we jumped up from hour to hour. We hit our goal at 7:30 the next morning.”

Mitlo theorizes that donations rolled in so quickly because of his community involvement. He is the former executive pastor of Rolling Hills Church in Penn Hills. He has coached Penn Hills High School volleyball teams and is the public address announcer for other school teams.

As of Tuesday, people donated more than $19,000. Mitlo labeled the amount “staggering and a little awkward” because the family raised more than enough for the trip. The extra money will cover expenses related to Trey's illness, he said.

They leave the first weekend in April for Orlando. The Mitlos won't tell the kids until it's time to leave.

“This trip is as much about Joe and Bella as it is about Trey,” Mitlo said. “It's about celebrating life. We're going to celebrate every minute we're down there.”

After that? Mitlo doesn't dwell on it.

“We have today,” he said. ”That's all anybody has, really.”

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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