Family Finds Hope and Comfort at Ronald McDonald House Spokane
Last year, everything was looking up for the Whitworth family of Polson, Montana. Cecile, a busy mother of three, had recently received an award for her ten years of work as a social worker helping families transition off of public assistance. Her husband had recently finished his college degree. And their youngest son, Cole, was getting ready to start kindergarten.
The family was on a vacation in Spokane when, in a moment, their lives changed forever. “We were at the Red Lion and Cole was playing with his sister Alyssa and brother Cadence. He fell down, and when I saw his face, I knew something was really wrong…the left side of his face was frozen. I thought he’d had a stroke,” Cecile recalls.
Two hours later, doctors at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital gave the news that no parent is ever prepared to hear. Cole had a malignant brain tumor.
“Within a couple of hours, the doctors had a plan,” Cecile remembers. “They put in a shunt right away. It was Thursday, and they scheduled brain surgery for Monday.
Doctors prepared the family for the worst, and warned them that their son might not be able to walk or speak after the surgery. They also cautioned that his personality could change. But as Cecile says, “I believe in the powers of prayer and of family”. Thankfully, surgeons were able to remove the entire tumor, and Cole was skipping down the halls the day he was released.
Despite the initial relief of a successful surgery, there remained a long road ahead. After two and a half weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, Cole got to go home for his sixth birthday and to celebrate the holidays. But the family knew that after the New Year, the long battle with cancer would resume.
Cole had been diagnosed with medulloblastoma, which meant over a year of chemo and radiation. “I remember meeting with the doctors and going through the treatment plan and just thinking… ‘how are we ever going to do this’?” recalls Cecile. “Our social worker Maggie told me about the Ronald McDonald House.”
When they returned to Spokane in January, the House was full, and Cecile and Cole had to spend ten days on the waiting list. “It was so hard,” Cecile admits. “There was one night when it was 11 and all Cole wanted was mac and cheese. We were in the hotel so I couldn’t make it for him…I just felt terrible.”
All that changed when a room opened up at the House. “Having laundry, a kitchen, play areas for Cole…that has made all of the difference,” says Cecile. “Cole actually asked me if we could move here after he had been at the House for about a week”. In addition to the physical comforts, Cecile appreciates the emotional support the House provides. “A lot of times we’ll cook a bunch of extra food and offer it to other families who are getting home from the hospital. And other families have done the same thing for us. Everyone just supports one another. It gives us all strength,” she explains. When asked about his favorite part of the House, Cole has a hard time picking one thing – he likes playing hide-and-go-seek. And making aliens with his friend Justin during arts and crafts time. And hanging out with all of the other kids. “Because he’s taken care of all the way around – here, at the hospital, with family, friends, and prayers…he’s doing so good,” says Cecile.
Recently Cole got very good news indeed – an MRI revealed that the treatment is working: there is no sign of disease left. “We’ve gone through five out of eight rounds of chemo, and the doctors have given Cole an eighty percent chance of recovery. We hope that the worst is behind us,” Cecile says with a smile.
The journey has been arduous, not only for Cole, but for Cecile and the rest of their family as well. “I could never have imagined my life before this… I have a sixteen-year-old-daughter and an eleven-year-old son back home…But you have something happen and as a mother you just have to be strong and go through it with your child… Something happens to your family and you think it’s going to destroy you, but there’s always hope.” she says “ And there’s good people to help you along the way.”