Two years ago, on what began as a normal October day our lives changed forever. After a number of hospital visits and tests, we were told that our 2-year-old son, Luke, had high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). We went from knowing very little about Ronald McDonald House (RMH), to quickly calling it our “home-away-from-home” for 248 days.
Living in Thunder Bay, we left Petra, our 4-year-old daughter, behind to stay with family as we flew over 1,300 km away from home. It would be the first of many difficult decisions we made during Luke’s illness. We were doing what we thought we needed to do so we could focus on Luke; however, the one thing the House taught us is that family is medicine. When the holidays came, Petra flew down with her grandparents to visit. Luke lit up like a Christmas tree! It was the first time he had seen his big sister in 2 months and his bright smile, that we hadn’t seen in weeks, made us feel like we had our Luke back. We decided then and there we would stay together at the House as a family for the rest of his cancer treatment.
After thinking it would be a holiday we would want to put behind us, the magic of the House made it just the opposite. Volunteers took the time to prepare a delicious Christmas dinner, we watched the House illuminate for the holiday season and we were spoiled with wrapped gifts Christmas morning. Gingerbread house decorating, writing letters to Santa, and BINGO nights put stressful hospital appointments behind us and helped us to feel grateful for what we had – family time together at RMH.
We found a haven away from hospital rooms and beeping machines, where we could get a good night sleep, eat a homemade meal, and feel welcomed every time we walked through the door. As parents, we could recharge and share ups and downs with other families, while our kids could be kids, playing in the courtyard, game rooms or making crafts. When much in our lives had changed in an instant, these little moments together kept us in a routine and provided a sense of normal we would have otherwise been missing.
We are so grateful for the care we received at the House and have started a new tradition with our extended family donating to RMH instead of exchanging Christmas gifts. It feels good doing something meaningful for the holidays. We know, even if we help one other family stay close, it’s worth it!
“Our favourite memory was having nightly dinners together and getting to know the staff. They were so kind to our kids and gave them little “jobs” to do around the House to keep busy. They even gave Petra her very own RMH volunteer vest!”