Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Getting Your Priorities Straight by Cory Farley

This powerful article first appeared in the December 1983 issue of Family Focus, the Family House newsletter, and it's still relevant today.

    Let the lawn go unmowed. Put the sprinkler on the tomatoes instead of watering them by hand, or leave them to wither. Let that last bit of work wait until Monday, and get home on time tonight. There are things that are important and things that aren't, and it's time you figured out the difference.
    This burst of philosophy, sappy as it may sound coming out of the blue like this, has been painfully learned: I've spent much of the last three weeks prowling the pediatric ward at Moffitt Hospital in San Francisco, and I've come home with an awareness of mortality I didn't have even in Vietnam.
    I was there- this is only to forestall speculation, not to beat my breast in public- because my wife and I learned early this month that our 2-year old son has leukemia. Just a few years ago, that was a death sentence. Now the five-year survival rate is about 70 percent, and many of those cases are presumed cured. Matt's getting good treatment, and we're optimistic he'll do well.
    But the things I've seen since June 2 have changed the way I will live the rest of my life.
    I wish no one else ever had to endure a month like this, or the years of treatment we pray are still to come. But the fact is that your chances are the same as ours were- 1 in 23,000 for leukemia; higher or lower for other catastrophes. And if I can pass along what I've learned, it may help those who have to face these tragedies- as well as those who don't.
    On balance, I think I'm about as good a father as I can be. Like everybody else, I sometimes cut the grass when my son wants to go fishing or watch football when he wants to play it. But I've also skipped parties to take him on picnics and gone to work at 6 in the morning so I could play with him in the evenings instead of working late.
    And we've been lucky, in a way. We've met parents this month who won't get a second chance. Kids get brain tumors, they get aplastic anemia, they're run over by cars and burned in fires and they go for rides with nice strangers. To some of their parents, a 70 percent chance of survival looks like immortality.
    Here's something to think about. Of all those people, not one expected ever to be pacing the halls of Moffitt Hospital, not any more than I did; no more than you do.
    Four weeks ago I thought- as you probably do- that the most serious "disaster" we'd face would be mumps, or maybe a broken leg. Leukemia was what happened to those kids you read about occasionally who get a trip to Disneyland courtesy of some local service club. But families like yours and mine- careful with prenatal nutrition, adamant about proper diet (Matt had never had a soft drink until we had to force fluids in the hospital), safety-conscious- bad things don't happen to us.
    Wrong: They do. Not just cancer, but all kinds of tragedies. And not just to kids, but to adults as well. My chance of being killed in a car crash, which I never even think about, is statistically five times greater than Matt's was of developing leukemia. You probably don't worry much about accidents at home, but there are twice as many fatalities in the home each year as there are new cases of leukemia.
    The point of this is not to scare you, but to urge you to look at your life. If you knew you had a 30 percent chance of dying in the next five years, or that one of your kids did, would you do all the niggling things you should do, or the things you want to do? Would you cut the lawn this weekend, or go to the park and fly a kite? Paint the bathroom or take a picnic lunch to Lake Tahoe?
    But, you say, we're all healthy, and the house is a mess.
    Why should that make a difference? In 20 years, your kids aren't going to remember if the kitchen floor was shiny. But they'll remember you had time to push them on the swings.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Volunteer Spotlight: Brian Lee

As a student at the University of San Francisco, Brian’s undergraduate program includes a set number of service hours to be completed at a local nonprofit. Brian first heard about Family House through fellow USF student Joey Jordan, the ACE Program volunteer leader for the 2014-2015 school year.

Brian is currently majoring in biology and pre-med, with hopes of becoming a dentist after graduation, and was seeking experience at a nonprofit with a focus in the medical field. He already has quite a bit of experience working with children - he is a Dragon Boat coach for teens ages 13-18 at his former high school in San Francisco.

Much of Brian’s time at Family House has been focused on highly detailed database work for our annual end-of-year appeals, as well as preparation work for our biggest annual fundraiser in February, Cabernet for Connoisseurs.

Brian loves to read and cook for his family, and his attention to detail and quiet humor have been an invaluable asset to the office staff at 50 Irving Street. He even volunteered over his winter break between semesters. Thank you, Brian!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Starbucks #603: Rockstar Volunteers!

Cole Munoz, a longtime Family House volunteer, had a brainstorm this holiday season that she named Jeans for Joy. As a manager of Starbucks #603 (at 74 New Montgomery Street in downtown SF), she encouraged her team to donate to Family House so they could wear jeans to work instead of the usual uniform. She also posted signs in-store to encourage customers to donate, and to help spread the word about the Family House mission.

Cole’s idea spread like wildfire through the Starbucks districts in San Francisco, and all told, 33 independent stores participated, raising funds for Family House families.

Cole first got involved with Family House through Director of Volunteer Programs Greg
Mora - the pair have been friends since high school. Cole has volunteered at fundraising events for the past 4 years, and she took the initiative to do something more personal this year. We hope Jeans for Joy will become a regular holiday Starbucks tradition!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mighty Mason – Looking Back

Mason H and his family stayed at Family House after his initial diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disease. Family House talked with Mason’s mother, Sara:

FH: What were your first memories of learning that Mason had Crohn's Disease? 

Sara: His initial diagnosis was Crohn's, but then the immunology department at UCSF did some testing on him, and they told us there's a very rare chance that he has a genetic disease called IL-10 Receptor Deficiency. He's the tenth noted case in the entire world. That's how rare it was, but the disease mimicked Crohn's. His GI tract was attacking itself basically. He was always in a lot of pain. 

It was a long road just to get to that diagnosis. Before we just thought this is something that he was going to have to live with and deal with. Then they told us that there was a cure, and the bone marrow transplant should take care of it. It was incredibly frightening, but we also saw a little light at the end of the tunnel.
FH: What was the most challenging aspect of those early days?

Sara: As a parent, the one thing that you want to do for your children is to protect them and help them, and there was just nothing we could do. We couldn't fix the problem ourselves, and that was just the most frustrating thing. Not knowing exactly what it was, and just watching him in pain all the time. It was incredibly hard. It tested our faith very, very much. 

FH: How did you first discover Family House?

Sara: One of the social workers in the hospital had mentioned it, that Family House specifically helps kids who are immune-compromised, which was what we’d need post-bone marrow transplant.

It was nice to see a place that had all of the comforts of home. Everybody was really helpful, and friendly, and very accommodating, especially Paul in the front office – he was just so warm and friendly. I remember when we were waiting outside and Mason was really, really sick. Paul came out and was really helpful and tried to calm us down. He was like that the entire stay. He checked on us. He always asked us how we were doing. He gave Mason a teddy bear right before we left.

We wouldn't have been able to do it without Family House, honestly, because we were there for quite a while after his transplant and because we live four and a half hours away in Reno. They needed us to be close because we had to do blood work every three days. It was a blessing that Family House was there.

We stayed at Family House for five weeks post-transplant before we got the clear to come back home. And we'd had a few stays prior to that as well, when we were doing all the pre-transplant testing. You need quite a few trips back and forth. We always had a place to stay.

FH: Was there anything that surprised you when you first started staying at Family House?

Sara: They have pictures of some of the kids that have stayed there, and it makes you realize that you're going to make it through. You see the kids. Some of them have sent in pictures afterwards once they’re well. I think that was a pleasant surprise, just to be able to see their journeys, and know that there is an end to it.

One of the hardest things - there's really no one else that truly understands what you're going through unless they're going through it, or have gone through it. People can sympathize, but there are very few people that can actually empathize with you. Meeting some of the families, and hearing their stories, it was definitely helpful. But when you have people there that know exactly what it is, it's somehow comforting.

FH: How is Mason doing now?

Sara: He's doing amazing! It's like nothing ever happened. He's four, and he had his first organized sport this year. We put him in soccer. He's just blossoming. He's growing, and he's just really happy. He's like the happiest kid ever.

FH: Is there one thing that you wish other people to know about Family House?

Sara: Just that it really is home away from home when you're in that kind of situation. It's more comfortable than staying at a hotel. You have all of the comforts of home. You've got your kitchen there. You've got your living room. There are tons of movies and toys to play with. They have volunteers going in and out of there cleaning the place all the time. It's incredibly clean. It's just a huge blessing that it's there. It's one of those places I wish more people knew about, and contributed funding to. I try to tell as many people as I can about it. There are people who want to do their end of year tax deduction, giveaways and I'm like, "Donate to Family House. They're really actually helping families."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Joy Littlesunday & Holiday Wishes

Joy has seen all of her first year milestones at Family House—first Christmas, first steps, first birthday.

Joy Littlesunday was just 3 weeks old when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (SCID) that runs in Native American populations.

Rushed to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital from Cameron, Arizona and less than two months old, Joy had a successful Bone Marrow Transplant. Over the past year and a half as baby Joy continues her treatment and recovery, Joy and her mother, Tina, have been staying at Family House. Separated by miles but not by love and support, Joy’s father Jarvison and siblings make the trip as often as possible.
 “Without Family House, I don’t know what we would be doing.  We miss home and being a whole family. Luckily, Family House has provided us the comfort and care to help us get through these challenging times. Family House has helped my daughter celebrate the truly precious child that she is.” - Tina Littlesunday

Help families like Joy's experience all the comforts of the holidays at their home away from home, Family House: Donate today! http://www.familyhouseinc.org/holidaywishes

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Danielle Sly

Danielle Sly first heard about Family House through a flyer posted at a local children’s shop, Chloe’s Closet, that donates children’s clothes to Family House. Danielle lives in the neighborhood and wanted to give back to a local organization after leaving the corporate world to raise 3 kids of her own.  She says about the community, “We are Inner Sunset residents and have a fondness for UCSF, as all of our children were born there. Our closest family member in the city is a nurse there. We plan on making this our home for the long term and helping an organization with such a wonderful mission would be mutually beneficial.”

Danielle’s help in the business office is invaluable – taking care of data cleanup tasks for our end-of-year mailings, silent Auction items for events, and even helping with our Capital Campaign. She has had many different volunteer experiences, from volunteering at United Cerebral Palsy, to helping teachers while in high school, to working in a Women’s Soup Kitchen in Boston during her college years. She has also read to students at low income schools during their lunch hour, and volunteers once per month at the SF Food Bank with her 6 year old son.  

When Danielle has free time she likes to  run, hike, bike and explore San Francisco with her kids and husband.

Thank you Danielle for all of your help at Family House!

To learn more about volunteering at Family House, visit http://www.familyhouseinc.org/volunteer.html