Meet the Ruljic Family

Meet the Ruljic Family

From Victoria, BC

For the Ruljics from Victoria BC, strength runs in the family – and that strength has been tested more than most people can imagine in the past few months.

For 15 years Nicole and Nenad Ruljic have served the BC community, working in geriatrics at a senior living facility. They were working on the front lines in November 2020 when their 2.5-year-old son Novak began feeling under the weather. They thought he might be teething or battling an ear infection, and knowing the risk of the pandemic, taking their son to the hospital was a last resort option.

But, when he wasn’t getting better, Nicole packed a small backpack with toddler necessities and took Novak to the hospital, expecting to be out in an hour.

Instead, the day took a very different turn. Nicole remembers, “2 hours later they told me that we needed to call my husband on speakerphone, that we had to have a plan.” She could had never have imagined what they said next: Novak had leukemia.

Within the hour, Nicole and Novak were airlifted to BC Children’s Hospital, while Nenad headed to the ferry terminal to meet them there. Within 2 hours of landing, Novak had 7 blood transfusions. Within 3 days, he had 4 surgeries and started chemotherapy. The rest is a blur.

Nicole remembers hearing about Ronald McDonald House from other moms in the oncology unit: “As we were pacing the halls at three in the morning, they told me that this was the best place ever, and once I got here there would be a sense of relief.” 14 days later, she discovered, “They were right.”

It felt so safe.
The support we’ve gotten here has just been out of this world.”

As soon as Nicole set foot in RMH BC, she felt a load lift. “I remember coming for the tour and getting the key to the room, and I went in there and I just cried. It felt so safe. With so much uncertainty in such a short amount of time you feel like a shell of who you are –but the support we’ve gotten here has just been out of this world.”

While the first few days at the House helped them take care of the bare necessities (food, sleep and a hairbrush) the Ruljics soon found themselves becoming part of a community. They spent the holidays at the House, and while at first they thought they couldn’t possibly celebrate – they found themselves drawn into the festivities. “I came here with no presents for my son, and you made it very magical,” says Nicole.

They started to meet friends, share stories, and feel more like themselves. Nicole especially enjoyed the chance to join a virtual paint night with other parents in the House: “It was the first time I had fun in 40 days!”

Raising a toddler undergoing cancer treatment comes with its own set of challenges. They were grateful for family time in the playroom and most of all, for a judgement-free community when Novak had just had enough. “If anyone’s in the kitchens they know my son,” laughs Nicole, “Because he screams for macaroni and cheese at 3 in the morning – ‘MACARONI, MORE!’”

And that community of support goes beyond the families currently in the House. Nicole remembers an inspiring encounter she had with a past family that gave her hope for the future:

“As I opened the door, I saw this woman pull up in her car. We locked eyes – I know in that moment I looked tired and sad. She was donating all these toys, and she came over to me and said with confidence, ‘I was you last year, and this is us this year. You must know that there’s hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel.’ That gesture has stuck with me so much. I thought to myself, that will be me coming back here next year and giving back to the community.”

Happily, the Ruljics recently found out that Novak is in remission. They still have a long road ahead with ongoing treatments, but when they return to Vancouver they know they have a home here.

“At the darkest point of your life, it’s almost like you can see a little bit of light. There’s hope. You know there’s people who have been through this before.”

At the darkest point of your life,
it’s like you can see a little bit of light. There’s hope. You know there’s people who have been through this before.”