Finnley Stanley is making a break for freedom. The 2½-year-old charges past the 16 Christmas trees in the living room of Ronald McDonald House, heads for the Hobbit-sized kid door, pulls down the latch and barrels outside.
As he runs his T-shirt rides up at the back to reveal a bandage that covers the spinal port where his chemo drugs are introduced. A volunteer scoots out the door, retrieves the toddler and plants him back inside.
Then Finnley dashes for the door again, and again, and again until his sister Mayelle declares she’s ready to return to the playroom and finish her painting.
Eventually dad Jordan wrangles Finn, scoops him into his arms and distracts him with a gingerbread house at the reception desk. When they reach the playroom Finnley marches over to his mother Jenell and offers her a sticky gummy candy that he pulled off the gingerbread house. “For you,” he says.
Then he’s off to bang at a workbench with a toy hammer while Mayelle deals with a predicament: she has blue paint all over her hands.
It’s a normal day for a family dealing with the new normal of parenting a child with cancer: exhausting, entertaining, challenging — and filled with hope.
Since July the Armstrong-based family has been dealing with Finnley’s diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow and blood that can progress rapidly if not treated immediately. All members of the family, including his five-year-old sister, have put their lives on hold to save his.
They have been displaced from their jobs, their routines, their home, their family and friends. Staying at Ronald McDonald House — which is just 575 steps from B.C. Children’s Hospital — has been their saving grace.
A huge part of what keeps them going is the warmth they feel at Ronald McDonald House, where the entire family is staying during the treatments.
“When you come through the doors here, you feel calm, comfort, home,” said Jordan, who noted that keeping the family together has been crucial as little Finnley responds better when Mayelle is there. “The fact that we can have Finnley and Jenell and Mayelle and myself all together means everything. And it helps Finnley.”
Finnley has lost his hair and plumped up because of the steroids he takes during chemo. “The steroids make him so hungry, and throw his circadian rhythm off so he doesn’t sleep at night,” said Jenell.
It’s not unusual to find Finn motoring around the Lego room at 4 a.m. while Jenell — alongside other exhausted mothers doing the same for their kids — prepares whatever he is craving: cucumbers (he’s had three on this day), or his most requested dish, prawns.
“I’ll be down there in the kitchen cooking prawns in the middle of the night. That’s just the way it is while he is on the steroids,” said Jenell.
The family has been here for 56 days through the latest round of chemo.
“I feel a lot of emotions,” said Jordan. “Frustration. Scared. Sadness. And happiness because he’s getting the treatments and we have the health care system we do. A lot of ups and downs. But everything they do for us here helps.”
The living room of Ronald McDonald House has just about everything a kid needs for a festive holiday: 16 decorated trees laden with gifts, twinkly lights and a giant spiral slide for the kids.
Richard Pass, CEO of Ronald McDonald House B.C. & Yukon said: “We are a place of hope. That’s what we want people to feel every day when they come through these doors.”
Ronald McDonald House B.C. opened in 1983 on Angus Drive in Vancouver but soon the needs of families exceeded capacity.
In 2014, the new house opened on the grounds of B.C. Children’s Hospital. The house can accommodate 73 families every night and offers many expanded services.
McDonald’s covers between 25 and 30 per cent of the operating budget through grants and customer giving, while the other 70 to 75 per cent is raised annually in the community by individuals and corporate donors.
“We really rely on the generosity of the public, and of our volunteers,” said Pass. “We would like to continue to grow so we can accommodate the needs of all families from outside the Lower Mainland seeking treatment for serious illnesses at B.C. Children’s.”
One of the programs that has meant the most to the Stanleys is family meal nights, when community volunteers, including past Ronald McDonald House families, show up to cook for current families.
“We’ve had such incredible meals already for the holiday, home-cooked, people cooking and sharing food with us straight from their hearts,” said Jordan.
The family is staying afloat through a Go Fund Me initiative organized by friends, but one thing is certain: “If there is anything left over once Finn is through this, we will give everything to Ronald McDonald House and B.C. Children’s Hospital for all the families they help. And I plan to come back and cook a family meal for others staying here.”
When he does, there’s a good chance that meal will include Finn’s favourite prawns.
Donations to Ronald McDonald House B.C. & Yukon can be made here.
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