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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Home Away From Home in 2000: The RMH

Keeping in mind that I was pregnant...I hated the Ronald McDonald House from May to August of 2000. The first time I walked into our room (Anderson was still in the hospital) I got in the shower, fell against the wall and cried for over an hour. Our room consisted of a bathroom, two double beds, a closet, and if you were lucky, a TV.
At that time everyone staying in Seattle's RMH had a cancer patient being treated at Children's Hospital. So besides sharing a family room, kitchen and eating area everyone expected you to share your child's diagnosis and treatment information...I didn't want to. I still remember when one woman came up to me and asked what Anderson had been diagnosed with. When I told her Leukemia she asked which kind. After telling her it was A.L.L she replied, "Oh wheeew, the good kind." I was so angry I couldn't speak. The GOOD kind. I wanted to punch her in the face. Please tell me on this great green earth what is possibly GOOD about my son having Leukemia! Later I did come to realize that she was right, Anderson did have the good kind of Leukemia. But no mother wants to hear those words only days after her world has been ripped out from under her. OK...so the RMH. We were sleeping in a hotel size room. We pushed the beds together to make one big King size bed. If you look at the above photo you will see a cupboard circled in red. That, my friends, was our kitchen space...one small cupboard to store food for a family of four. Our fridge space was one metal basket about the size of the fruit drawer in your refrigerator. Our freezer basket was even smaller. If you did cook a meal in the kitchen you were then forced to eat in the common area...never a private family meal...ever.

Our first idea for a solution was to buy a small fridge and put it into the room...but then there were the RMH rules. Absolutely NO food in the rooms...ever. While I was pregnant we ate out twice a day, seven days a week. I still remember when one of our rooms was on the first floor we would smuggle in pizzas through the window.

Some other house rules were:

~No bare feet outside of the bedrooms
~If you are coughing or sick you must wear a face mask
~If you get to go home for a day or two you must report back into the RMH by 10:00PM on the final day. (We always got into trouble for breaking this one.
~No "stay over" guests. (We always broke this rule too)
~Do your assigned chore every day and sign it off on the paper
~Don't leave your laundry in the dryer for more than 15 minutes after it is completed
It was very hard to be an adult and suddenly have to report to other adults.

But then I had Sydney and I returned to the RMH with less hormones and a lot better attitude. The lady who I wanted to punch in the face became a dear friend and another lady, Mickey, had this to say shortly after we returned, "Wow Amy, we didn't really like you over the summer, but you have totally changed!" She was right. We started hanging out around the House more often and we became attached to those we lived with.

The RMH became an amazing, loving home away from home for us. We spent every moment of every day together as a family. We wrestled and played games on our big bed.

We all read a ton! (See our Christmas Stockings hanging on the wall) John swore our family would never have video games, but when your child's counts are low you are stuck inside and can't go anywhere. (Basically that means that Anderson's blood Counts were extremely low due to his chemotherapy and his immunity was non existent.) Our family played A LOT of video games. John and I would stay up all hours of the night playing Mario kart and Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64.Since Anderson was missing Preschool we had him and Cayden do "book work" every day.
Each week there would be a Therapy Dog that would come in to play with the kids. One day I came into the family room and there was a huge Rottweiler. I leaned over to my boys and said, "Hey guys! That looks just like Carl!"
Carl is the name of a dog in several books by Alexandra Day. In each book the dog babysits a little girl and they have all kinds of adventures together. My boys loved those books. The lady who was with the dog looked up at me and said very matter-of-factly, "This is Carl." She was Alexandra Day! Of course I immediately ran up to our room to get all of our Carl books and she signed them all. We saw Carl a lot while we were at the RMH. He was one of the kindest dogs I had ever met.

Anderson with Carl.

While we were there they asked my boys to participate in a photo shoot with Ronald. They were getting shots that they could use to promote Ronald McDonald House Charities. Keep in mind that this all took place from May 2000 until April 2001. On Thursday March 11, 2004 John was in Tacoma for the State Basketball tournament. Someone had left their Seattle Times on the bench in front of him so John snatched it up. When John opened it to the sports section this is what he saw... A HUGE 1/2 page add for the RMH with Cayden as their poster boy! The rest of that year I had several people come back from Mariners games and tell me that they saw Cayden's picture plastered on the big screen at the game.

That year was the worst and best year of my life. It was amazing how complete strangers became united through the sicknesses of their children. We had many heartaches that year. A teenage boy from Alaska was being sent home. There was nothing more that could be done for him so he was going home to die. He didn't want to go home. All his friends were at the RMH. Everyone in Seattle knew what he was going through, they were just like him. I still remember the day John took the RMH van and that young man to his last Seattle Mariners game. He died a month later in Alaska.

Many other children that we came to know and love lost their fight that year. As a mother I have often wondered why my child made it through. I see things differently now. I never pass up the opportunity to drop some change in those clear RMH Charity boxes. Each night spent at the RMH was $12. You were sent a bill at the end of your stay that simply stated that if you had the funds great...if not, no worries. I don't fret about some of the little things in life like I used to. I try to let my kids live. If they aren't hurting anything or anyone...it's probably OK.

They have since remodeled the RMH and it is no longer only for Cancer Patients. This makes me a little sad to think my home away from home has changed. I truly came to love my stay there and I will forever be in debt to the staff who worked there and the families who lived there.


Melissa Mae Johnson said...

Wow, Amy...what an experience. I remember how sad I was when my mom told me about Anderson. I'm so glad he's doing well and going strong! Its those kinds of experiences that make us realize what matters most in life.

The Warnicks said...

Wow! I have loved reading your story what amazing strength you had. I had Anderson in primary and what a joy he is. He is bright and happy all the time and willing to read, pray and put in his input. Hes a great kid!

Lisa said...

The Ronald McDonald house is such a blessing to so many families. Once again, thank you for sharing all of this with us. You are inspiring :)

Mike Brinkerhoff said...

Again, I'm just speechless at what you all went through during that time. These posts are so inspring!

cazmom said...

Amy - I never knew you were there for so long. I visited you only once when you were still pregnant with Sydney. What made you share this with us all on your blog? I'm so glad you did. I learned a lot from it.

Kristen said...

I enjoyed hearing your story of the RMH. We've stayed at one every time Cayman has been in the hospital. In the beginning I hated staying there too. We would be at the hospital all day long, exhausted physically, and completely burned out from medical/diagnosis jargon. We'd look forward to getting back to the RMH to eat supper, relax, and perhaps "escape" for a short while but only to find ourselves surrounding by every one else talking about their hospital experiences. We couldn't get away from it for a break unless we wanted to lock ourselves in our tiny room. But then we got know the others staying there and the staff that worked there. The support was priceless. It became comforting to be in a "world" where other people "knew" and cared. We didn't feel alone.

On a different note; you had asked about Cayman's 7 months pictures and how did I get the background black. I wish there was a more clear cut directional answer than what I can give, but this is what I did. I laid her on a very dark blanket that I have. It's actually a very dark blue, but looks more black in the photos, which is what I was hoping for. The original photo came out a tad overexposed. Then I played around with the Hue/Saturation and Brightness/Contrast controls in Adobe Photoshop until the blanket was dark, and Cayman's skin tone looked rosy.

Dandee said...

Ronald McDonald House Charity is an amazing organization! I love reading these posts!

MichelleB said...

So my tearful day continues. What an experience for your family to have to go through. Makes me think about how my comments at times may make people feel. I am sure there are a few patients of mine that have wanted to smack me too!

Bren's Life said...

I never knew that was what it was like at these homes. I just can't even imagine for a second.
I am so greatful to hear that he has been healthy for so long & I'm sure he has at least 90 more yrs ahead of him...
Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is so touching & really helps me to appreciate my children more.
You are just such an amazing person.

4starmom said...

I love these posts too.

Em and Ms said...

Such amazing experiences that only made you all strongter. It's good to know that through such a difficult trial you were well taken care of.

Deborama said...

I have never paid attention to the commercials for it or even knew what it was really about. That would have been so hard, and I love you saying you were much nicer after Sydney came. My kids told me after I had Avery that I was a nice Mom again! :) I love you telling your story!

Kris said...

The experience at the RMH sounds very scary, but comforting. Glad you were able to make some good friends. This has been very good for me to read Amy. Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

~The Robin's Nest~ said...

Thanks for sharing this story Amy~You always touch my heart with your words.

SuzanSayz said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story Amy. You are such an up-beat, interesting, and all around good guy, and I love reading about this ordeal that you and your family went through.
It seems like these situations can become a break it or make it type of problem. And you and John could write a book on how well your family MADE it!

Jan said...

You have been refined for sure. I see the strength that it brought your family. What a time. I love how you are journaling it and sharing it. I am grateful it turned out the way it did.

I am so enjoying that cute Syndee.

meohmyers said...

This is so great for you to write it all down. Sounds like it was just yesterday how you can remember all the details. I'm so glad you all had the RMH to go to. What a generous organization to allow families to stay together if they could afford it or not.

debsters said...

How can I be teary with the memories of worry, smiling with the knowledge we have of the great plan we have been blessed with and so much gratitude that you shared this touching story. I love that that woman noticed your change in at the RMH. Those who work to spread joy and light through difficult times really are angels among us.

Jodi said...

Amy, I think you were inspired to write about your family's experience with Anderson's Leukemia. My sister just called me yesterday saying that someone in her ward's 4-year old child was just diagnosed with it (I don't know what kind - I didn't know there was even more than one kind) and I was telling her about Anderson and mentioned to her that I'd ask you to post about it (if you felt comfortable) so that maybe her friend could read about your experience and maybe feel comforted in some small way. Thank you for sharing. It was very inspiring. (I love having a computer again!!)

rip said...

I echo everyone's comments. When you remember those hard times, I bet you are grateful for what you have now.(Most of the time;))

Mikki said...

My goodness!! I just have no words. I'm glad your on this end of it now. (I guess) I will definitely start dropping my spare change in those boxes at McDonalds. I'm just amazed by your strength in enduring such a trial. I think our Father saves the really tough trials for his most special children, the ones He knows can handle it. God bless you and your sweet family!

Alicia said...

Wow, that's a lot of comments. Again, it was so surreal to hear your story about this. Looking at your experience now through a mother's point of view, I have no idea how you did it. I will always remember your change of heart the second time you were there. It's such a perfect example of how changing your attitude completely changed a situation.
I was so grateful for the RMH the week we stayed there in Utah. I was so amazed that we didn't "have" to pay. It really is a wonderful organization.