TODAY | May 12, 2013
>>> we are celebrating mothers today, but we want to particularly celebrate one military mom who has an incredible story.
>> yes, she is so inspiring, and has been to her entire community of family and friends , and we wanted to share her story with you.
>> i love you, daddy.
>> i love you more.
>> reporter: it's the one call marilee and her kids look forward to every day.
>> you tired?
>> a little bit. it's almost midnight .
>> reporter: marilee's husband, john, a major in the army, is in afghanistan . his third deployment in the 12 years they've been married.
>> that 15 minutes with him on the phone is the only time i breathe. the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of a day, i'm holding my breath, because i'm scared.
>> reporter: a feeling that's all too familiar. just over two years ago, this family faced its biggest battle right here at home.
>> sitting in the doctor's office, and, you know, he said basically -- it was, like, it's cancer.
>> i remember being more shocked than anything. like, i didn't understand.
>> reporter: at just 32 years old, she was diagnosed with advanced stage 3 breast cancer .
>> i remember being so scared and just -- i mean, the first thought when you hear cancer is you're going to die.
>> reporter: and top of mind, her two young children. jonah lee and ryan.
>> they sent their father to war multiple times. why did they deserve this? my one thing i could give them was knowing that mom was always going to be there, and then now i wasn't sure i was going to be.
>> reporter: as the months wore on, the chemotherapy weakened her body and at times her spirit.
>> i had to tell her she had two kids that needed her. and that i needed her.
>> she became aware of how much support she had from people she didn't even know.
>> reporter: that's because marilee is not only devoted military wife and mother , she's a dedicated volunteer. last summer, she helped build a house for a wounded warrior. today, she's part of a reading program that helps kids whose parents are deployed. she also teaches preschool.
>> all of us here at the preschool went and helped her when she was doing her chemotherapy, cleaned her house for her.
>> reporter: after eight rounds of chemo, 33 of radiation, and a bilateral mastectomy, marilee is now cancer-free.
>> every time she turned around, somebody was doing nice for her, and so, she just decided she could kind of pay it forward by doing things for other people. [ cheers ]
>> reporter: and we are really pleased to have marilee with us this morning, along with her mom. happy mother 's day to both of you.
>> thank you.
>> and your kids. how are you doing today, marilee? how is your health?
>> i'm doing really well. things seem to be going well. they seem to think we have the cancer under control.
>> jean, happy mother day to you. what's your message for what your daughter has been through? what's your mother 's day message?
>> don't ever give up. always be there for your daughter. just help her whole family. and just know that they're going to make it through.
>> well, that's important advice. and we want to recognize all that you've been through. we have a little bit of a mother 's day surprise for you.
>> don't worry --
>> we weren't going to bring you all this way without -- a few years ago, you had a fire in your backyard. so it's been pretty bare until now. why doesn't we take a walk, first of all? we want to show you guys something here.
>> we sent a special correspondent to your backyard when we brought you to new york. our good friend george olson, sent george to the rescue, actually in your backyard this morning, marilee. george , what do you have?
>> happy mother 's day, marilee! now, as soon as you and the family head up to new york, the team from harlem, texas, landscape and irrigation, they came into your backyard and have took over. we've got quite a surprise for you. are you ready, marilee?
>> are you excited?
>> three, two, one! take it away!
>> oh, my goodness. [ cheers ] oh, my gosh!
>> your friends, family, co-workers are here. one thing you and john talked about was a fire pit . we built you a fire pit . but we didn't stop there. we decided to give you a whole outdoor kitchen, complete with pergola, granite countertops, barstools, flat-screen tv. how about this for a grill, huh?
>> oh, my goodness.
>> grill some chicken, some steak. no reason to bring the food back inside once you're done, because you have an outdoor dining room now! you and the family can sit out here, enjoy your meals, enjoy your backyard. all of this furniture provided by front gate. and when we got out here, it was just dead grass, broken-down swingset. not anymore, we have grass, we have flowers, trees, plants. when you come out your backdoor, there will be butterflies, and how about this for a water feature ? three waterfalls. red, white, blue. star of texas in the middle. now, i know that you enjoy the trampoline, so that is still here. but for john, we also added a horseshoe pit .
>> oh, gosh.
>> none of this would have even been possible, marilee, without the herculean effort by these guys. how did you pull this off?
>> actually, time is of the essence in a project like this. so we had to hit the ground running, about an hour after marilee left, to catch her flight to dallas, to new york city , we came in, six trucks, six trailers, heavy equipment, plenty of our highly skilled laborers, our staff here came in about an hour. had the whole yard stripped. the foundation for the patio, the fountain, really pulled it off. proud of the team.
>> this is unbelievable what you did. you make it sound easy. i know it wasn't that easy.
>> no, it wasn't. we had careful planning, contingency plan, and four inches of rain in 48 hours , along with hail. and with everybody's help, staff, we're just so proud to be a part of this project, and happy we got it completed.
>> long days, long night, rain, sleet. nothing could have stopped these guys. marilee, happy mother 's day. you deserve this? you and the kids will love this. i do this all the time, but this is unbelievable.
>> good job. great. marilee, you're watching all of this. first of all, make sure you lock your back gate.
>> yeah, yeah.
>> what's your reaction to all of this?
>> we're going to have a barbecue when we get home. everybody's invited. everybody come over.
>> that's 5 million people you just invited.
>> yeah, please, we'd love to have you.
>> what do you guys think of the new backyard?
>> i like it.
>> you looking forward to spending time back there with your mom and dad at your home?
>> i like your trampoline. i know your dad john couldn't be here because he's in afghanistan , but we have him on skype right now. let's put john on from afghanistan . there he is. hey, john. what's your mother 's day message to your family?
>> well, one, i just want to say i didn't see it, but i heard them saying it. absolutely amazing. thank you. to my family, you know, hey, beautiful, i love you. happy mother 's day. i'm surprised -- i kind of knew some of that was going on, not all of it. but i just wanted to make sure you knew that you are absolutely amazing and a wonderful wife and mother . and every day we're together, i love you more and more. so i love you guys. and give your mom extra hugs and kisses today for me.
>> i love you.
>> i love you.
>> major, thank you for being with us. thank you, sir, for your service.
>> you have a beautiful family here. we're happy to have them here with us.
>> thank you.