Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Atwood Family Story

Karissa, Luke, John, and Laci @ Family House

The Atwood family is currently facing an illness that changed their life in an instant. Only two months ago, on February 21st of this year, parents John and Karissa learned that their youngest child Laci had cancer. After the diagnosis of embryonal botryoid rhabdomyosarcoma—which is one of the more common, tumorous forms of childhood cancers—the Atwood’s life has been a whirlwind. As it turned out, although Laci had a common type of cancer, hers was incredibly rare in its location; located in her ear and temporal bone, less than one millimeter from her brain, surgery was not an option. What all of this meant was that Laci was now classified as having Stage III cancer and would have to undergo a 42 week treatment plan, involving both chemotherapy and radiation.

The Atwood’s immediately began the treatment process at their home in Fresno, CA, but were halted shortly thereafter when their hospital’s radiation machine broke. John, Karissa, Laci, and 5 year old brother Luke were forced to move quickly: it was 9 PM the night they learned that they needed to be transferred up to San Francisco, and they had to be at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital by 9 AM the next morning. The family remembers being told that they were going to stay at Family House, and that everything was already set up for their arrival. However, John was skeptical at first—a feeling that many families may have upon their impending arrival to this new home away from home.  He laughed, confessing that on that first night he took his family to stay at a hotel instead.
After being here for over three weeks, John was happy to share that his feelings of uneasiness about coming to Family House have completely subsided. He noted that even if his family could afford a different living situation while up here in San Francisco, they would still choose to be at Family House. He summed it up, saying that they “wouldn’t do it any other way”. When asked what they like most about Family House, John and Karissa agreed that the feeling of community between all the families staying here is one of the best perks. Whether they are connecting with families going through the same diagnosis that they are, or whether they are learning about different situations than theirs, the Atwood’s appreciate being able to share this time with a new, inner support group. In fact, they said that they have formed life-long friendships in the few weeks that they have been here. These newly formed friendships, as well as the supportive staff, have led John to remark that by being here he has changed for the better.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Corona Family Story

The Corona Family with Bobby the Easter Bunny @ our 10th Ave. house
In the past year, the Corona family’s life has been completely turned upside down. Last May, they found out that their 3 year old son Steven was suffering from retinoblastoma, which is cancer of the eye. Unfortunately, retinoblastoma can be hereditary and the family went through this once before, with Steven’s dad many years prior.

The treatment plan led Steven, mom Brandy, grandma Janet, and baby sister Vivianna up to San Francisco to work with doctors at UCSF’s children’s hospital. Currently, the family is completing a five week stay at Family House while Steven receives 30 minute sessions of radiation treatment, 5 days a week. This treatment is an attempt to save his right eye, and prevent him from becoming blind (previous treatments were unsuccessful in saving his left eye).

While this isn’t the Corona family’s first stay at Family House, it is definitely the longest. Previously, they have stayed with us for just a few days at a time. Because Steven’s dad must stay home and work while everyone else is up in San Francisco, the time apart could be hard on this close family. However, they all pack up and drive home every weekend so that they can see their dad and spend time as a family, and on Sunday nights they drive back to begin another long week of treatment. They live about an hour outside of Fresno, so the roundtrip drive each weekend can take almost 10 hours. 

When they are here during the week, the family described the atmosphere using the words warmth, comfort, and security. In terms of security, the family referenced the way that they are always taken care of here: “any time we need something, it’s there… sometimes I can’t believe it and I have to say ‘pinch me’“. Aside from the great atmosphere here, a few of the Corona’s favorite parts of Family House are the events for the kids and the passes that Family House offers (to the zoo, Academy of Sciences, etc.). While the children’s activities help Steven get his mind away from his daily morning treatments at the doctors, Brandy says that the family passes help the parents take their minds off the doctors and allow them to clear their head from everything that is happening while they recharge in a different environment. What the family appreciates the most here, though, are the people in general—the families that come through here. Janet noted candidly:“you think that you’re by yourself in this world, but then you meet other families here… the people who you meet here allow you to experience it with someone else.”