Meet the Hawkes Family

From Victoria, BC

“The doctor pulled me aside and told me he had our results,” remembers dad Stephen Hawkes about the day his daughter Ella, then 7 years old, was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. “That’s when we found out she had cancer. I waited to tell my family until we got home. My wife Angie was driving at the time, and I didn’t want to upset Ella while we were still at the hospital.” A few days earlier, Ella had had a bone biopsy after a leg sprain turned into unbearable pain.
 
Before this devastating news even had time to sink in, the Hawkes family needed to leave for Vancouver, for an unknown length of time. “It was basically panic,” remembers Stephen. “We were looking at AirBnBs, hotels, basements suites – and there was nothing close to the hospital.” They also didn’t know how long they would be away from home. Stephen remembers, “We ended up staying for ten months straight, and we only went home twice. Knowing what to pack is impossible.”

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The family also faced the scary prospect of being away from home with an immunocompromised child during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When they learned there was a place for them at Ronald McDonald House BC and Yukon, their fears were eased. They had a place to stay just steps from the hospital, with safety measures in place that made them feel better about being in a medical setting.
 
Programs at the House such as the Pantry Program and Family Meals also helped to ease their burden “When you have zero energy to go grocery shopping, there is everything that you need at the House -plus, with Family Meals, you aren’t going to go starving!” Having groceries delivered also helped them to get through the weeks and months at the House, allowing them to make home-cooked meals.
 
Over the course of 10 months, Ella went through a number of aggressive chemotherapy treatments and surgeries. The family opted for limb-saving surgery, which involves removing the cancerous bone and replacing it with a healthy bone graft. Extreme nausea was a side-effect of Ella’s treatment – meaning that Stephen and Angie decided to spare her from the stress of trips to Victoria and back. “Even though it seems close, you don’t want to sit on a ferry,” says Stephen. “Plus her medical team, and all the expertise and resources to deal with her tumour, was all in Vancouver.”
 
When Ella was feeling well enough, she loved to attend programs in the House such as Art and Music Therapy, and loved making new creations in the LEGO room. She made new friends through Bingo Nights, including another family from Victoria that was also battling osteosarcoma. Stephen and Angie were happy that Ella was able to have this relief from isolation. “If Ella was well enough to do something, there were a variety of programs she could take part in – it wasn’t just us to entertain her,” Stephen says. He remembers cozy days where Ella and the other kids would play and share music, while parents could talk and support one another.
 
It was the little things that made such a difference for the family – such as the flu vaccinations that are offered at the House. “It saved us one more step of planning. Anything to save us one more responsibility is a lifesaver. Your whole life is your child’s treatment and all else is an afterthought,” shares Stephen. And most importantly for tired parents and caregivers – the coffee that was available 24/7!

After 10 months, the Hawkes family was able to return home to Victoria, with mixed feelings. “It’s probably the most difficult part of the journey,” says Stephen. “You get home and it’s like, now what? You don’t have your whole support network there anymore, and also your cancer journey is not over.” Ella now returns to the House for 6-month follow-up appointments, and in the months following her return home, had physiotherapy to learn to walk again. Any fever would mean a trip to the emergency room, and her new leg also needed adjustments after a fracture – a common complication after procedures like hers. But, no matter what happened, the Hawkes family knew they had a home away from home whenever they needed to return to Vancouver.
 
Now, Ella loves math and gym at school, loves playing with Squishmallows with her friends, and is big into gaming: Roblox, Minecraft, and Animal Crossing. She also loves to create new crafts every weekend!
 
Her family remains grateful for their home away from home. “Supporting RMH BC & Yukon is the best way to support families that are going through difficult times, says Stephen. “Ella couldn’t be treated in Victoria, and children need their families with them. RMH BC & Yukon has been around so long, and they know exactly what they’re doing – they do an excellent job of supporting families.”