So many of the families that stay with us at Ronald McDonald House arrive within only a few hours of a life-changing diagnosis. Can you imagine how much stress that would cause? Suddenly having to worry about your children, your work, your home life… all within hours of beginning a treatment journey.
This was the case for one of our House Mums Angela Hayes. What was initially thought to be pregnancy symptoms soon turned into something much more concerning.
At the end of 2018, Angela found out that she was pregnant with her and husband Greg’s second child. At the time, their son Eli was only a year old, and the family were living in Masterton, Wairarapa.
Only a few weeks into her pregnancy, Angela began to experience what doctors thought was extreme morning sickness.
“I basically didn’t get out of bed for eight weeks,” she tells me. But when her symptoms didn’t improve, Angela sought answers from her doctors.
The first and second set of tests indicated that her symptoms were viral and she was advised to wait them out. Still, they continued. It was only revealed after the third test when Angela was 17 weeks into her pregnancy that it was, in fact, much more serious than a run of the mill virus.
Angela was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a type of cancer where tumors develop from lymphocytes – a type of white blood cell. While considered one of the most easily treatable cancers, it was still a devastating blow to the Hayes family.
Upon her diagnosis, Angela was referred by the Masterton Hospital to treatment in Wellington. She was aware that her treatment would require a long stay in the hospital away from home, but hadn’t expected it to happen so soon.
It was when Angela was in the car on the way to her first consultation in Wellington when she passed out; she had to be rushed the rest of the journey in an ambulance.
When she finally arrived at Wellington Hospital, she was told she wouldn’t be going home that day – her 5 month long treatment would begin immediately.
“When I got there, I was told I couldn’t go home,” she says. “I didn’t even have an overnight bag!”
Luckily for Angela, she was still able to proceed with her Lymphoma treatment despite being pregnant. Because she had been diagnosed into her second trimester, the effects of the eight rounds of chemotherapy required would have no effect on her unborn child.
However, because her pregnancy was now considered high-risk, she would not be allowed to return home until her baby was born.
Angela spent 130 nights at Ronald McDonald House Wellington while she underwent her own treatment and delivered a beautiful baby boy – Leo, now eight months old – 36 weeks into her pregnancy.
Her stay at Ronald McDonald House meant that her eldest son, Eli, was able to visit her while she underwent treatment in a safe, child-friendly ‘home-away-from-home’. The Hayes family could stand by each other as Angela recovered.
“It was amazing,” Angela says, talking about her first visit to Ronald McDonald House. “I was lucky enough to be set up in an apartment with my own bathroom and kitchen. I had the choice to join the other families for dinner, which was nice, but I also had my own space.”
Having the ability to have her family with her following her treatment was a huge comfort and relief.
“It was hard not being close to my family, like my husband and Eli. But in the House, Eli turned 2 and he even got presents from the staff! You don’t realise what an amazing service it is until you have to use it.”
Angela was so relieved by the support given to her at Ronald McDonald House that she has signed up to fundraise for House to House 2020.
House to House is RMHC New Zealand’s signature community fundraising campaign which calls for participants to walk, run, cycle or swim 210KM across the month of March, while raising $210.
$210 is the cost of providing one night’s accommodation, staple pantry items to create home-cooked meals, and essential supplies upon arrival for families in need. Something especially important for families like Angela’s when their lives are changed in hours due to a medical diagnosis.
Now, Angela and baby Leo are doing well and are back in Masterton with their loved ones. But Angela could not be more grateful for having access to a Ronald McDonald House while she recovered.
“I just want to say a big ‘thank you’. Without Ronald McDonald House existing, it would have been a lot more difficult,” she says. “The most important thing was that it definitely was a ‘home-away-from-home’.”
If you’d like to help families like Angela’s when their loved one is going through a medical journey, you can make a donation here.