Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Vision of Inspiration

It was 1994 when Austin Young first came to Family House. He was only six months old. Austin had been born with Retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer commonly found in children. Austin and his family lived on and off at Family House until Austin was five, while he received radiation treatments to try and save his vision. A process his younger sister later would also have to endure for a few years with him.

Now, eleven years later Austin sits before me today as a seventeen year old with a driver's license about to start his senior year of high school. Sadly college visits aren't the only thing that brings Austin back to San Francisco. This past Easter Austin's sister notice a lump on his neck. It was Rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer, a possible side effect of all the radiation Austin received as a child. Austin is back at Family House on and off for the next year while he receives radiation and chemo therapy. Despite a scar on Austin's neck, a side effect from his first surgery, you would never know he was sick. He speaks of his treatment in a very "matter of fact" fashion.
He said, "the good thing about getting both radiation and chemo at the same time is that the kind of chemo I get doesn't make me sick. I can't receive the more intense chemo that makes you sick while undergoing radiation. That's the benefit of my treatment."  

Austin's mom Bonnie, reminisced about their first stay at Family House as I sat and talked to them.
Before they found Family House, Bonnie said they stayed at this really cheap hotel down by the water in San Francisco. "It cost $50 for one night, and it was dirty and grimy."After that first night a social worker recommended them to Family House, a recommendation Bonnie will never forget. Over those first five years Bonnie said they probably stayed at Family House at least 30 times. 
She said, "it was like a vacation. The staff here knew how to bring joy back into life"
She spoke of the other families they grew close to in that time, who they still keep in touch with eleven years later. 

Austin's described his schedule for the week, "Monday afternoon I go in for radiation, Tuesday I spend the night in the hospital while I am receiving chemo, then Wednesday morning its another round of radiation.  Thursday and Friday I usually have more radiation and whatever other appointments I need to do before going home for the weekend."To most of us this seems like a miserable way to spend a week, but to Austin this is normal. This is what he has to do to get better, so he can go on to major in Computer Science in college a year from now like he wants to. 

Austin's remarkable life earned him an invite from one of his childhood doctors to go and speak before the first year medical students at the University of Pennsylvania last year.

Bonnie tried to describe what makes Family House special. She said, "It's a beautiful thing just for support...its not all good and dandy what we are all going through here, but it is more the understanding everyone has here. For us this is our life, it becomes kind of normal. Other people who aren't dealing with it often don't know how to react or handle it, but here everyone gets it because they are going through it too."

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