Finding Bits of Home & Community at RMHC: Brystal


Brystal’s Story

Attending her first sleepaway basketball match should have been a big milestone for 10-year-old Brystal. Instead it was the beginning of a much longer journey. After the big game, Brystal displayed a noticeable limp, which her mom, Darlene, attributed to growing pains. To be safe, they went to see Bystal’s doctor. 

 “I got a call back real quick and that usually doesn’t happen. Just the sound of the phone ringing gave me the sense it was serious,” Darlene said. The doctor told them that Bystal had cancer.

“When your child is handed a diagnosis like cancer you just get an empty feeling inside,” she said. 

They immediately left their village of  Emmonak, Alaska and traveled 485 miles to Anchorage, AK for a stop over and on to Seattle Children’s Hospital for additional medical care. 

With no planned long term housing, RMHC of Western Washington & Alaska became their safe landing place.

“I Shifted my roles of primary earner, mother of six and caregiver for my dad, to focusing all my energy on Byrstal’s well-being,” Darlene explained. 

Darlene is a judicial officer for the entire western region of Alaska. The stability and community support they have found at the Seattle House has helped Darlene hold onto her job for their six-month stay.

“Initially, RMHC was just a building, but over time, it’s become so much more,” she said. “We’ve connected with most of the families here at the House.” For Brystal and her mom, the House transformed into a place of familiar faces. Brystal developed friendships with other children sharing her cancer diagnosis, and they regularly meet in the craft room to pass the time. Darlene formed a singing group that gathered in the basement to share gospel songs with other families from Alaska.

Throughout Brystal’s medical journey, she has encountered scary and uncertain moments. She underwent a leg amputation to prevent her cancer from metastasizing to other parts of her body. There was also a period when she experienced a negative response to her chemotherapy treatment, and during that time, medical professionals had concerns about her survival. During this challenging phase, Brystal’s father joined to offer support, and they remained close to her at all times except for necessities like sleep, showers and meals at RMHC.

“RMHC provides a safety net for us. The services, the staff, the volunteers gives us a cocoon of support and allows me to concentrate solely on my daughter’s health,” Darlene said.  

When a child faces a medical emergency, it exacts both a physical and emotional toll on the individual and their family. Organizations like RMHC step in to offer the necessary support families need to navigate the intricate and multifaceted challenges that come with a difficult diagnosis.

Fortunately, things have been progressing smoothly for Brystal, and she is expected to return home in a few months. Jotted down on a note, Brystal has a list of activities she plans to participate in once she returns to her residence in Alaska. This list is carefully tucked away in a drawer in her RMHC room, all set to be taken out on moving day.

Your support helps families like Brystal’s at a difficult time in their lives. To learn more about how to get involved, visit our Donate or Volunteer pages!