Six year old Elijah loves math, even though he’s just started kindergarten. “Hey Elijah, what’s 49 + 51?” asks his dad. The blonde kid with wide blue eyes takes a moment to think it over. “100!” he shouts, after figuring it out. “Nine plus one is ten, and four plus five is 9…” He goes back to shading in a rabbit on his coloring pages, with younger sister Emily looking on and older brother Eli engrossed in a maze.
Elijah was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at the age of 15 months. “One day, he just stopped walking,” says Elijah’s dad, Joshua. “We took him to the doctor and after an MRI, they told us we needed to go to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Life just stopped when we found out about the tumor in his spine.” The first night the family stayed at the House, the front desk helped them get another fitted sheet and clean a bed after a bed-wetting incident. “Everyone was so kind about it and the staff has really helped us feel at home.” Since that first night, the family has stayed at the Ronald McDonald House four times. “I think we have stayed in every House, on every floor,” laughs Joshua.
Home for Elijah’s family is about two and a half hours away in the small town of Montesano, Washington. “It’s about the size of a Chickadee compared to Seattle,” says Eli, age 8. The family runs a bakery and coffee store even though they are often at the Ronald McDonald House for months at a time. “We’re lucky to have really great employees,” says Joshua. Elijah’s mom also currently commutes to her job in Olympia, from the House. “We live our lives very mobile,” explains Joshua. “We just don’t know when we’ll be here next, or we’ll have an appointment in a month, so we’re back and forth. It’s just a relief to know we always have a place to stay when Elijah needs treatment.”
While the family misses their relatives, they are so thankful that RMHC has become a second home for them for months at a time. “It’s funny, Elijah’s older brother and sister really consider the Ronald McDonald House another home,” says Joshua. “They get excited about coming here, and we keep in touch with the friends they’ve made over the years at the House. They’ll ask me to text so-and-so’s parents to tell their friend about the new craft they made that day.” Activities like arts and crafts or visiting a therapy dog have helped ease the transition for Eli and Emily.
Another thing that the family truly appreciates are all the small ways that the House has been there for them. “The kids were up ridiculously early the other day, so I went down to the kitchen to make some waffles. And there was this volunteer, emptying a dishwasher and cleaning – that’s just amazing to me,” says Joshua. “The House really takes care of everything, even making sure to look after all the little loose ends. There’s free laundry soap in the laundry room, there’s a pantry that’s available whenever you need it…it’s just incredible that so many of the things you forget to bring with you are already here.”
Elijah and his family will stay in Seattle a few more weeks while he undergoes chemotherapy and then antibody treatments – but through it all, they’ll get to be together as a family thanks to RMHC.