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Pocatello family on bittersweet journey to fund cruise with mom battling cancer

Carlson toffee
The Carlson family breaks up the toffee they've been cooking in their kitchen.

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - It's been said that timing is everything and that couldn't be truer for one Pocatello family. For the Carlsons, John, Cally, and their four children, the time is now.

Cally is a fourth-grade teacher at Tendoy Elementary School. So far, one of the hardest lessons she's had to learn is that sometimes history repeats itself.

In 2014, Cally underwent an MRI to determine what was behind the lingering headaches she had been experiencing. Soon after, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Cally had successful surgery to remove the tumor and underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Several years had past and Cally didn't feel anything was wrong when she and John traveled down to Salt Lake City for a regular check-up in December of 2018. As it would turn out, Cally's tumor had returned.

"We've done surgery again, and now I'm on this clinical study drug that is helpful, it's doing a lot," Cally said. But currently, "there's a big question mark" for what comes next.

"We just are trying to get as much as we can out of the time," Cally added.

John said that they're trying not to think about it that way, taking things "one day at a time."

"We think too far down, it just gets murky and we're just like 'nope.' One day at a time and just move forward," he explained.

So now, one step at a time, the family is baking up a plan to get some quality time together while they still can.

"We went on a cruise for our ten year anniversary and we had a great time, it was awesome, it was wonderful. We came home and we thought we want to bring the kids to do this," Cally said.

With their sights set on the same Mexican Riviera trip they had taken years before, the Carlsons knew they'd have to find a way to fund their holiday in the sun. Estimates for the trip exceeded $6,000, and only one thing came to mind; toffee.

Cally has been making toffee for nearly 15 years, first selling it at craft shows and later using the talent to help send two of her sons on the American Heritage Tour.

But they knew this time would be different. They'd have to make more toffee than ever before.

"So, we sat down together and said 'are we really committed? Do we really want to do this or not?' and 'are we really willing to do that kind of work' and the answer was definitely a yes," Cally said. "Let's do this."

Since then, nights at the Carlson house have been busy.

"Hours and hours, we'll be in the kitchen," John said. "To just do one batch is a half an hour of stirring."

"But we do a double batch," Cally added. "People ask me all the time, 'are you making all this toffee?' Well, no. My kids are."

Day after day, the kitchen is crammed with six busy workers, mixing, spreading and breaking the toffee before it's boxed in 11-ounce tins.

According to the family, one tray of toffee fills about three tins, which are apparently increasingly hard to come by.

"We really hadn't thought through that entirely," Cally said. "We've never sold at this quantity," John added.

Luckily, people far and wide have taken time to help find extra tins or return ones that held the toffee they recently purchased.

"Within just one plea on Facebook, I got 500 tins coming in to me. And that's amazing," John said, "amazing that they are willing to do that."

While the cruise is destined to be a memory-filled journey, John says the road leading up to the trip may end up being just as valuable.

"Those are memories," John said of the time spent in the kitchen, "memories good and bad. But overall, very good."

Cally is already looking back on the process and the memories she and her family will have forever.

"That really wasn't even the original intention, but we're kind of realizing ... that, yeah, we're going to remember things from this as much as they remember from [the cruise]."

So far, the family is about halfway to its goal. Keeping track with a jar of gumballs in the kitchen, a recent count showed over 300 tins had been sold.

At $10 a tin, the family is hoping they'll be able to reach the goal before Dec. 20, when they must submit final payments for the March trip.

In an effort to help the Carlsons hit the mark, the ELF Project is selling the toffee online. John warns that because of high shipping costs, they ask you to order a minimum of three tins.

"We really frown on just doing one tin of toffee," John said. "That's actually not helpful to us if you buy one and we have to ship it," Cally added.

When it's all said and done, the family will have made hundreds of trays of toffee and enjoyed a sun-soaked vacation, full of memories before and after they set sail.

"It's amazing, it's absolutely amazing," Cally said. "It's just huge and it's amazing."

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