Drew Graham, father of Oliver and Jax and husband to Kaitlin, wrote us a personal letter about his experience at the Ronald McDonald House in Halifax. His letter has changed our lives and inspired us to serve even more families through our network of Houses across the country.
On June 5th 11:18pm my youngest son, Oliver, beat his cancer; unfortunately his cancer was so aggressive that he had to sacrifice his life to do it. He was the bravest person I will ever know. Oliver's 2 year fight taught me I had my priorities wrong, even before the cancer, I was missing my youngest son’s life. Ronald MacDonald house would later teach me I was also missing my oldest.
When your child is going through aggressive kemo you treat them like a porcelain doll. Terrified of every cough or cold, always waiting for them to vomit or bleed. You are literally waiting for the worst to happen. My oldest Jax (only 15 months older than Oliver) would spend each day at the hospital playing what Oliver wanted to play and playing how we told him he was allowed to play. Jax was not allowed to play something his brother could not and Oliver most of the time could not play much. When Oliver would play he'd sometimes hit or knock over Jax, and that was no big deal. But if Jax so much as bumped Oliver or tripped over his med lines, both my wife, Kait and myself would discipline him. Treating the boys the same had to be a secondary concern.
For Jax that all changed as soon as we left for Ronald MacDonald House. Around 6:30 Oli's bedtime, Jax and I would walk from the I.W.K. to Ronald MacDonald House. As soon as we exited the Hospital it would be about Jax, we would race from fire hydrant to fire hydrant. Finally sprinting to the big red door. Once we were inside Jax would take off to the playroom, were kids and volunteers would play with him. Here he wasn't running to fast or paying to rough. He was just a kid, being a kid. If he got hungry there was always a treat to be found in the kitchen. After playtime it was off to the tub and then bed. In bed we would watch Scooby-Doo, Spider-man, or Ben 10 on a portable DVD player. Jax would tell me about the characters in the show and what new toys he though were cool. Lying on separate single beds or together on a double I bonded with my son, I mean really bonded with my son.
Some nights when Jax was asleep I would sneak out to the common room to watch hockey or the news, anything to take my mind off cancer. I'd meet other parents and inevitably talk about why we were there. In these conversations I learned life is not far and cancer wasn't the only thing kids were fighting. I would also learn that while I thought we were broke, and had it tough, every family at the house had it tough, some had other kids who had to stay home, 8 to 10 hour drives, Jobs that only allowed unpaid leave or forcing them to stay at work or quit. I hope you are never faced with the choice of leaving your dying child, or losing the ability to support your family.
If not for Ronald MacDonald house, these families, my family, would not have been together when they most needed to be.
Ronald MacDonald house became for me and Jax an Oasis, a place to play were Jax didn't have to curb his enthusiasm and I was just a regular parent. The house allowed both of us to let off steam and make the most of what days we still had as a whole family.
To all the staff and volunteers at the house who make a habit of going above and beyond. Thank you all for turning Ronald MacDonald House into a home.
Finally I need to say something to two people who have had a profound effect on me - Lisa Sampson and Linda Tee-bow.
Thank you both for spoiling Jax, for being an ear when I needed to speak, a shrink when I needed advice, a shoulder when I needed to cry, and a friend when I needed a hug. You are family. On behalf of all my family, in the words of Oliver "My love you, all my heart."