Julia Rogers: A home away from home

Rachel Rogers had been thinking that her life had finally reached an even keel. The single mom had gotten off public assistance and had at last found a full-time job with great advancement possibilities. Life certainly seemed to be moving in the right direction.

It was then that Rachel’s middle daughter, Julia, who had always been a bit of a hypochondriac, came home from eighth grade complaining of aches and pains. Rachel attributed it to an over-reaction to ordinary “growing pains.” Even as more complaints began to emerge, they all seemed to have logical explanations. Bruising on her legs was attributed to clumsiness caused by her growing body. An intermittent fever was from something she picked up at school. A remembered tick bite might be Lyme Disease, which the doctor did not even run a blood test for, indicating that it would be too early to get a consistent positive response. Even nose bleeds seemed the result of a bleeding disorder that runs in Rachel’s family.

Mounting symptoms, however, caused Rachel to bring Julia back to the doctor who ordered what Rachel thought was a routine blood test. With no health insurance, she was just glad that she had enough in her checking account to pay the $300.00 fee so the lab would run the test. But the next day, the doctor called Rachel and told her to take her daughter immediately to the emergency room. “Still,” Rachel said, “you don’t let yourself believe that anything really serious is happening.” While at the ER, Rachel went outside to make a phone call to arrange for the care of her younger children. “It was then,” she said, “that I knew something awful was happening. The doctor came out, put his arm around me and said, ‘This will be hard, but you will get through it.’ Then, even without having the final diagnosis, I started to panic.”

Almost immediately, the local hospital transferred Julia to Albany Med. It was there that Rachel finally heard the awful news: Julia had leukemia. When the cancer medications caused diabetes, Julia ended up in the hospital for two weeks. That’s when Rachel found the solace of Ronald McDonald House. Her first night there, she was so tired and distraught that she hardly noticed where she was. But as her new rhythm of life took shape, Rachel had a chance to look around. She called her mom and said, “Imagine yourself in a $300-a-night Bed and Breakfast. That’s where I think I am. This place is beautiful.”

Now, because of problems with Medicaid regulations, Julia cannot be treated near home, so she and Rachel make the trek to Albany every few weeks for continuing treatment. They have to be at the hospital for about a half hour for four successive days. Driving back and forth, though, would be too tiring for Julia and cause too much wear and tear on Rachel’s aging car. So Ronald McDonald House welcomes them each time. In fact, Julia, who is not yet able to return to school, finds Ronald McDonald House a sort of break in her narrowed life. She enjoys the peace of the house and the video and internet resources available there. “Everyone is so nice,” Julia says. “Everything you need is right there for you.” She also uses the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Albany Medical Center and loves to participate in the Beads of Courage program that was developed with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society in partnership with RMHC’s Community Grants program. “When Julia was the guest of honor at the Fashion Show this past summer,” Rachel remembers, “the staff treated her like a princess.”

“I don’t know what we would have done if there had been no Ronald McDonald House,” claims Rachel. “Without their support, I have no idea how we could have managed these ongoing treatments.” While Rachel worries about the future because she has not been able to continue her job and Julia still has radiation to deal with after the chemo, she delights in her daughter’s spirit. “Even now,” she says, “I can forget sometimes how sick she is when I see her smiling, laughing, learning and enjoying her life. Ronald McDonald House helps put that smile on her face and we are so grateful.”