In late August last year Lachie was sick...again. He'd had a fever every month since March, but with no other symptoms we were told to let him rest and he always seemed to get better. This time was different, Lachie had a whole heap of bruises and just wanted to sleep. As we waited for our GP appointment we hoped that what ‘doctor Google’ was saying wasn't true. When we saw the GP they told us to go straight to Greymouth Hospital and spare no time going home first. The blood tests showed some very worrying indicators that saw us rushing over Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch Hospital with nothing in the back of our car but our two youngest sons and a handbag. To say we were in shock is an understatement.
Over the next two days, our hearts were broken when we discovered our Lachie had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and would need chemotherapy. We began to learn that this was going to be a journey and a really long one - one that couldn't be walked back home in Hokitika. Malachi, our youngest son, had been staying with my parents from the moment we arrived at Christchurch Hospital. He was really in need of some Mum and Dad time and this wasn’t easy to give to a healthy two year old in the CHOC ward. That was when we came into the care of Ronald McDonald House South Island (RMHSI) which was known to our kids as the "Party House".
In the first month, Lachie was admitted to hospital pretty much full time. It was really important to be able to stay so close to the hospital as we did sleep shifts to be with Lachie and play time shifts with Malachi who turned two in late September.
My second night in the house was Father’s Day. I remember waking up and finding a present outside my door with a big tag that said ‘Happy Father’s Day, Love from RMHSI’. It was completely unexpected but set the scene of a place that makes sure those special wee family moments aren't forgotten in the turmoil of a sick child.
We have worked hard to have our own family house, that’s something we are proud of, so suddenly being in community-style living was confronting at first. But these feelings faded quickly. It was this very ‘House Community’ that became our greatest support network. The staff became like family. Every day we would walk down the stairs and see a smiling face and open arms. Our kids had a morning routine where they would visit all the staff and yell “Hey ladies, good morning ladies!” There was a real extended family feeling.
As time went on we got to know other families in the House. We would often drag several of the tables in the dining room together and share our meal with 3 or 4 families each evening. We would share our days and what was going on. If anyone understood what we were going through it was the other families staying in the House It was really important for us to talk.
Having a hot meal made by volunteers every night was amazing. We can’t have imagined going to the supermarket or thinking about cooking after some of the days we had in Hospital. We also really appreciated the access the House gave us to extracurricular activities like the Antarctic Centre or Les Mills because when you are here long-term, you need to try and have a life outside of the Hospital. Jeanna (Lachie’s Mum) would wake up early and head down to Les Mills for a workout, which really helped energise her and clear her head. I think this was crucial in helping us get through some of the most challenging days. We are really grateful that these businesses donate their services to families at RMHSI. I’m not sure they will ever know what that meant for our wellbeing.
At our 100th and then the 200th day in the House we decided we wanted to give something back so we cooked a meal for all the staff and volunteers. We wanted to try and look after them the way they had looked after us. It felt good to give something back to people who had given us so much.
For us, Ronald McDonald House can only be described as Home. It has been our comfort zone, our safety blanket and our safe place for the last 8 months. It has been really hard to leave. Lachie has another 2.5 years of treatment so being able to stay together in those early months until we were able to relocate to Christchurch, meant the world to us.