When 19-year-old Andy had a cold that refused to go away, even after a course of antibiotics, his mom, Arlene, decided to take him back to the doctor, where they drew blood before sending them to their local hospital. The doctor said there was something suspicious with the results, so he recommended going to another facility. While the doctor and his team made a few phone calls, Andy and Arlene waited anxiously in the exam room. Andy turned to his mother and asked, “Do you think the cancer is back?”
Four years earlier, Andy had been diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. He was life-flighted from their home in Ida Grove, Iowa to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, where he underwent rounds of chemotherapy and radiation over the following 18 months. During those appointments, the doctors informed Andy that one potential side effect of his treatments was developing Leukemia later in life. As it turned out, “later in life” meant December 3, 2015.
Arlene took her son to Nebraska Medicine, where another round of blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy confirmed the doctor’s suspicion: Andy had Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
Andy’s treatments got underway, and one of the hospital social workers talked to his family about the Ronald McDonald House. At the time, there were no vacant rooms, so they had to be placed on a waiting list. During the waiting period, Arlene and her husband Jeff, along with their daughter and her husband had to find a place to sleep. While they did spend one night in a hotel room, the cost of doing so for much longer would be a heavy burden to bear, so the four of them made do by resting in the hospital lobby.
Once a room at the House opened up, Arlene and her family were overjoyed. They had comfortable beds, warm showers, and plenty of home-cooked meals. They were amazed and thankful for all the volunteers who came to provide dinner for them, along with all of the food in the House refrigerator. Supporting a child undergoing chemotherapy is difficult enough without having to worry about buying, preparing, and cooking meals as well, so they were incredibly grateful to have all of this, just minutes from their son.
Arlene felt blessed to have the House staff around. “We were welcomed with open arms by all the staff. Everyone was so helpful and went out of their way to help us in any way they could.” She also says “the staff at the House all deserve medals! They provide comfort and make sure everyone has what they need.”
A couple of months later, Andy had a stem cell transplant, which required him to remain in Omaha for another 100 days. After the first 30 days, he was able to join his family at their new-found second home, where they were all able to get settled in – together. With the entire family around, Arlene had more freedom to cook meals, even taking the time to prepare meals for the rest of the house. The other families became a part of their family, always around to listen to and comfort them, so Arlene loved to cook as a way of saying thank you.
On June 3, 2016, Andy and his family went home. His fight isn’t over yet, and he comes to Omaha every two weeks for blood tests and treatments. Even though he and his family hope to not need to stay at the House again, their relationship with RMHC in Omaha will continue to thrive.
As Arlene says, “We will be forever grateful to everyone at the Ronald McDonald House. We have family and friends who have donated to this wonderful cause, and others who collect pop tabs to turn in. I can never thank the Ronald McDonald House enough for everything they did for my family when our lives were turned upside down.”