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A Feeling of Home

Meet our Host a Roast™ 2022 stars, the Huggins family

The Huggins family: Mum Amy, a teacher, Dad Nathan, a builder, 5-year-old Ryder and 3-year-old Tahlia live in the small village of Mt Somers, in rural mid-Canterbury. Their world was shaken when Ryder was diagnosed with Leukaemia last year. Here Amy shares their story.

Life seemed to be going perfectly. We were happy at work, happy at home and Ryder was excited about preparing for school and for his 5th birthday. Then Wednesday June 16th 2021 came around and it is a day that we will never forget.

During the weeks prior Ryder had developed several concerning symptoms. On the Wednesday morning we travelled to Ashburton for a doctor’s check-up. Within 30 mins we were at Ashburton Hospital ACU where they took bloods. They were very concerned with the result and wanted us to travel by ambulance through to the CHOC ward at Christchurch Hospital. At the word CHOC I knew that it was something serious. CHOC means Children’s Haematology Oncology Centre. In other words – the child cancer ward.

Ryder was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia otherwise known as ALL. One of my first thoughts was ‘oh no, how can this be happening a week away from his birthday party?’. Then there was preschool graduation and starting school; it wasn’t part of the plan and it felt like everything was ruined.

The next two weeks particularly were an absolute whirlwind. Thankfully while I was staying with Ryder, Nathan and Tahlia were able to stay at Ronald McDonald House in Christchurch.

In those two weeks alone, Ryder had five platelet transfusions and three blood transfusions, six hourly blood tests, three X-rays, an ultrasound, a CT scan and an echo cardiogram, steroids, three different types of chemotherapy, two lumber puncture surgeries where bone marrow was removed to be tested, and chemo was injected into his spine.

Before we knew it, it was Ryder’s birthday. We were able to have small party in his room on the ward, with his grandparents and sister. The doctors and nurses made a big deal about his birthday, singing to him and even providing presents. Later in the afternoon we were allowed to leave the hospital for a couple of hours to go to Ronald McDonald House. This absolutely made Ryder’s day as he had been very jealous that his sister had been staying at “McDonald’s”!

When we arrived a present from Ronald McDonald House was sitting there waiting for him for his birthday. He couldn’t believe it – even Ronald McDonald House knew it was his birthday! As I walked him back to the hospital that evening, he said to me, “Mum, this was the best birthday ever”.

Two weeks after diagnosis we were discharged and officially able to join Nathan and Tahlia at Ronald McDonald House. While the staff on the CHOC ward are incredible, it was so nice to be in our own room together as a family.

We still had to be at the hospital nearly every day for treatment but coming back to Ronald McDonald House each day felt like coming home. We were able to build relationships with the staff and some of the other families staying, two of whom also had children being treated for cancer. I particularly loved mealtimes.  There was always an amazing group of volunteers to cook us a beautiful meal and it was often a time that we could share our stories of the day and support each other’s journeys.

After 36 nights we were finally able to go home for the first time since Ryder was diagnosed. Since that first stay, we return for the odd night or two every few weeks, and we had a two-week stint in November while Ryder had a big round of treatment with chemotherapy every day. We have stayed 68 nights at Ronald McDonald House so far, and with Ryder’s treatment ongoing we may have many more nights there yet.

We have thankfully had some good days mixed in with some very hard ones. Ronald McDonald House and the team there have been such an incredible support throughout. I honestly don’t know how we would have coped with it. Knowing that we can be close to the hospital, not have to travel as much, have a bed and meal each day, has taken away so much stress at an already difficult time. And this really has been the hardest time in our lives. I had to resign from a job that I loved. We have been separated as a family (particularly due to Covid); we have had to miss celebrations, events, and gatherings. But it is all worth it to get Ryder back to full health.

One thing that makes it easier is that Ryder absolutely loves Ronald McDonald House.  He always asks me when we are going to stay there next. The pure joy on his face when we are there is priceless, as a parent of a child fighting cancer that honestly means the world to me.

Thank you, Ronald McDonald House Board and team, for all you do. Thank you to all the volunteers and supporters. You are honestly making such a difference to so many families who are often going through the most challenging time of their lives.

 The Huggins family are the stars of Host a Roast2022. To find out more and register your event, visit www.hostaroast.kiwi

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