Resilience, Courage and Lockdown: A Father's Journey
A lot has changed for Dunedin father Darrin Steedman over the past few months.
Not only has he had to live through the national lockdown due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, his six-year-old daughter Brianna has undergone treatment for a tumour and his wife has given birth to their fourth child.
Darrin shares his story here.
It was in January life took a sharp turn. Our daughter Brianna, a keen BMX racer, had a major accident one BMX Club night, clipping another rider on the start ramp, injuring her right arm andopening it up with a pretty decent wound.
For some time after that accident, she just kept vomiting and we thought she’d been contaminated by the lime that we use on our track surface.
She seemed to get more and more ill, losing weight and complaining of excruciating pain in her tummy. We went to the doctor and he felt a lump around her liver and thought her liver had doubled in size so he advised the hospital Brianna needed to be checked out ASAP.
We were called into the hospital where she had her ultrasound scan. We didn’t know what was going on.
They kept calling in doctors who would examine screens and then go out and have a meeting. Half an hour later, six or seven specialists came in. They were lining the room and we knew something bad was about to be announced.
That was when we were told, Brianna has cancer.
It was the worst moment I have ever experienced in my life. Our whole world was turned upside down. We just burst into tears.
It’s really difficult to train your brain into thinking positive thoughts, particularly when you hear the word ‘cancer’. I tried hard to push the negative ‘worst case scenario’ thoughts aside because when you hear about treatment and success rates, you want to be positive. But processing it initially was very hard.
Brianna had just turned six in January.
How do you tell a six-year-old what’s going on?
We were crying and very emotional when she asked what was wrong. We explained in the best possible way that she had cancer.
One of the volunteers from my work passed away from cancer just before we left for Christchurch and I had attended his funeral. She knew about that, and quickly put two and two together.
“Am I going to die?” she asked us.
It broke our hearts hearing her say that.
The day after Brianna’s diagnosis, we found ourselves in Christchurch, and then at Ronald McDonald House South Island. I’ve never experienced anything like Ronald McDonald House.
When I first arrived, I was a bit nervous. But when I walked through the door, the most amazing people are there to greet you. From the first night there, this really was our ‘home away from home’.
The team were so lovely and made us feel really warm and welcomed. Two night-time volunteers took me up to our room that first night. I noticed how clean the House was – it had that 5-star feeling about it. It was just phenomenal. I was very impressed!
At the same time we were going through this experience with Brianna, my wife Julia was seven months pregnant and had placenta previa which made her a high-risk pregnancy. We needed to make sure she had a midwife in Christchurch and that she was equally looked after during this time. After a bit of luck we eventually found a midwife who could take us on even though she was completely full, and it was amazing that she could come and meet Julia and do what she needed to do at the House.
Our two sons were able to join us at the House during the weekend or whenever they were in Christchurch for a BMX meet. As we were lucky enough to stay in two rooms with adjoining doors, it meant we had extra space when the boys came to visit.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, soon followed by the nationwide lockdown.
Visitors to the House were no longer allowed which meant the midwife wasn’t able to visit, and our sons too had to stay away.
We considered a lot of different scenarios and options, including taking up the offer of off-site accommodation, but we ultimately decided that staying at Ronald McDonald House was the best option and what we needed at this point in time. This was, after all, now our home.
Brianna started losing her hair, and taste, and we were really worried about this Covid thing and how it might affect her, so we just laid low at the House as much as we could.
The amazing thing about this time though, is the House and the special warmth it has, never changed. Despite all the protection measures in place such as the closure of communal areas, volunteer activities, including the Family Dinner Programme were paused, and the majority of team members working from home, it strangely feels exactly like the first day we walked in.
The rooms were very comfortable and the fact that each room has a balcony meant we had space to sit outside which was vital during lockdown.
The people we did still see had the same smiles and the same warmth they’ve always had. It’s just amazing that in amongst these circumstances, they can still have such an impact on you.
During the lockdown, the families in the House stepped up to give the team a hand. The ‘Dad Squad’ has been doing jobs around the House like cleaning, vacuuming and gardening. Ronald McDonald House has done so much for us, this was the least we could do to give back and it has been a great distraction.
Two weeks into the lockdown, our son Enzo was born via C-section – the same day and exactly the same time as Brianna was having her first post-surgery chemotherapy session.
This meant I wasn’t able to be at the birth, but within 24 hours, both Julia and Enzo were back with us at the House. Again, we were just so overwhelmed by the love and support we received from the team. With families leaving, we were moved into a double room and a ‘nursery’ complete with bassinet, changing table and bedding was all ready for us for Enzo’s arrival. It’s just mind-boggling that something we were really worried about was just all taken care of.
The fact we only had to walk 5 minutes to the hospital made things so much easier especially when Enzo was born while Brianna was having treatment, and having to go back and forth to the hospital on a daily basis.
The hardest thing for us now is to leave. It will be an extremely emotional time. We will be forever grateful for everything the team at Ronald McDonald House has done to help us through these tough times in our journey.
It’s hard to know how to describe this amazing place to people and why you should support it, because unless you’ve been in this position and needed it, you don’t know how incredible this place is. We have made lifelong friends with some families in the House and when all this Covid-19 is done and lifted, we will make a special trip back up to Ronald McDonald House for some well-earned hugs for the team.