Rising above the hardship

Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver helps West Kelowna youth and his family deal with need for leukemia chemo treatments.

Alanna Haminishi and her son Thomas

Thomas Haminishi is going to spend his Christmas undergoing chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed with leukemia this summer.

But for the 10-year-old West Kelowna youth and his mom Alanna, they are making the best of a stressful situation helped by being tenants at the Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver.

The facility provides a place to stay for parents and kids from out of town needing to get medical treatment, located within easy walking distance of the hospital.

“(Ronald McDonald House) is an amazing place,” said Alanna. “The staff and volunteers here are just amazing.

“It’s almost a surreal experience because everyone is so upbeat and the response of generosity is overwhelming.”

For more than 30 years, Ronald McDonald House BC/Yukon has provided accommodation for seriously ill children and their families at BC Children’s Hospital.

Initially, that service was provided through a 13-bedroom home in the city’s Shaughnessy area, but in 2014 a new 73-bedroom house located on the hospital grounds was opened which serves 2,000 families each year in spacious suites with private washrooms.

The facility includes a fitness room, arts and crafts studio, magic room, Lego lounge and comfortable indoor and outdoor lounge areas.

But perhaps its biggest asset is the relief it offers out-of-town families who don’t have relatives in Vancouver who can put them up and can’t afford the financial hardship of staying at a hotel while their child is undergoing lengthy medical treatment.

“It’s very hard on a family when your child goes through something like what Thomas is dealing with. Critical illness like this divides a family because of the treatment involved but you stay positive and know that hopefully by February or March, Thomas will be well enough to go back home and return on a monthly basis for treatments,” said Alanna.

Thomas’ parents are divorced, and he has a 17-year-old brother and 15-year-old sister, along with a seven-year-old step-sister.

For Thomas, who would have been in Grade 5 this year at George Pringle Elementary, he is looking at three years of chemo treatment.

Besides losing his hair, the treatments have hindered his ability to walk and he’s lost partial vision in one eye, but his mom says he’s fared better than many for negative reactions from the chemo drugs.

“The treatments are hard on the body and he’s had some hiccups along the way, but we’re grateful for how Thomas has responded compared to how other kids we’ve met who haven’t responded as well to chemo,” Alanna said.

To help the kids and their parents get a break from the grind of medical treatment, Ronald McDonald House does its best to bring a little Christmas spirit for its cohabitants.

Those activities have included decorating a Christmas tree, visits from Santa, for Thomas being able to take music lessons to learn how to play the piano and ukulele, Christmas carol singing, making cookies, skating at the Richmond arena and a trip to Capilano Bridge in North Vancouver.

Even Ronald McDonald himself came by for a visit with treats from McDonald’s.

“It was the first time since we’ve been here that they actually brought McDonald’s food to the house, but Ronald McDonald came as well and I think I was more excited than Thomas was,” she said.

“It was such a cool event and then after eating, all of us were taken on a field trip to the Capilano Canyon suspension bridge to see the Christmas lights display. It was such a fun day.”

She said Thomas’ spirits were definitely lifted by a visit from members of the Vancouver Canucks, as he was able to get his picture taken with his favourite player, goaltender Ryan Miller, and to also meet Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Thomas also made a point of finding a Christmas tree this year for their room because of the connection it has to his grandmother, who passed away from cancer last Christmas.

“His grandma was in hospice care and she wanted a Christmas tree so we found one for her and the grandkids all decorated it,” Alanna explained.

“He wanted to get a Christmas tree because it reminds him of his grandma. It is very symbolic for him personally as he feels he and his grandma are on the same journey together.”