On most afternoons, Abby Cavanaugh and Samantha Frank can be found doing typical teenager things: hanging out, talking, joking and sometimes sitting in companionable silence with their heads buried in their phones. They are comfortable and relaxed as they lounge in the living room like any other pair of 14-year-old friends.
Except they aren’t a typical pair of teenagers and they aren’t home in Nanaimo or Chilliwack – they are staying with their respective families at Ronald McDonald House BC and Yukon as they both recover from bone marrow transplants.
Abby is on her second fight with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and Sam is battling Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) – two different cancers that affect bone marrow. The two girls underwent bone marrow transplants less than two months apart and quickly became friends while staying near the hospital at RMH BC.
Abby went through her transplant first and is a source of inspiration and courage for Sam, who felt self-conscious about losing her hair as side effect of her treatment. After Sam saw Abby walk around the House without a toque, it gave her the confidence to take her toque off more and more.
The similarities in their journeys extend past their treatment. Both girls have their mothers, Christine and Kim, in the House with them as a source of essential support. The rest of their family visits them at the House when they can make the trip to Vancouver in between work and school commitments. Sam’s brother currently lives at the House with her, but both families eagerly wait for weekends when the rest of their family members can come to visit.
During the week, the Frank and Cavanaugh families find comfort in knowing they have a new community at RMH BC to support them in Vancouver. Like their daughters, moms Christine and Kim have formed a special connection.
The House provides a comfortable place where they can take a breath, compare notes about treatments, and confide in each other about their worries and milestones, their successes and setbacks. They understand each other in the way that only parents of a sick child can.
“People at home, they don’t really get it. When we are back at home, Abby can’t go back to school yet and I can’t go to work,” says Kim. “Sometimes we feel so alone. Other people sympathize but don’t understand our full situation. Some people assume that Abby is healed and everything is good because she is starting to grow hair, not understanding that we are still going through treatment.”
Abby has recently passed the anticipated 100-day mark, the exciting point after a transplant when their dietary restrictions start to lift and the girls can enjoy foods they have been craving for months. Abby didn’t have much fanfare when her day passed, but the two plan to have a celebration of their 100-day marks when Sam reaches this milestone. They are thinking of going for a slushie to celebrate.
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