The Schaefer family of Lexington, OH was enjoying a great spring in 2015. Their oldest daughter was wrapping up her freshman year of college, and the three children remaining at home had busy schedules with school, soccer, and friends. Dave and Michele were enjoying the fun that comes with being an active family.
On Easter morning, their 15-year-old son William, experienced a sharp stomach pain, making a trip to the doctor a priority for Monday. At that appointment, nothing unusual was identified and William was simply under the weather. Unfortunately, the situation did not resolve itself and on Friday, William had a CAT scan on his abdomen which showed a 5-inch mass. The family’s busy lifestyle came to an abrupt halt. Their small hospital in Lexington was unable to treat Williams situation, so they headed to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH approximately 70 miles away.
William stayed at Children’s for a week of biopsies and other tests and within two weeks of that Easter Sunday, William was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that would “turned their world upside down”
As the families who have children in our Believe In Tomorrow programs know firsthand, a plan was quickly made by William’s medical team and William readied himself for two weeks of chemotherapy beginning in May. Michele primarily stayed in Columbus with William, while her husband Dave kept the remaining household on track back in Lexington. Michele began to feel overwhelmed with the volume of information that she was receiving. Helpful social workers stopped in daily to provide supportive information for families whose child has been diagnosed with cancer. And all Michele kept thinking was, “this is for kids who are really sick…we don’t need this.” With time, the reality of William’s sickness sunk in and Michelle and Dave decided they had been spending too much time as a split family with one parent back in Lexington with the other children and one parent at Children’s with William. Michelle dug through the materials that the social workers had left behind, and called Believe In Tomorrow.
The Believe In Tomorrow Respite Housing program allows families to come together in a restorative setting with their critically ill child anytime during treatments or up to one-year post-treatment. The Schaefer family met the criteria and were quickly scheduled for a getaway to Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. When Michele and Dave told William about the planned trip, he was interested in the idea of time away but was unsure of what to really expect. The family headed to The House on Wisp Mountain in July.
William and his family headed to Deep Creek Lake, simply happy to have a little time together, and unsure as to how this trip would affect them. They pulled into the driveway, opened the front door and knew immediately that this trip was going to be more special than they ever imagined.
“The view was incredible, the surroundings were peaceful, and we were all together.”
The Schaefers were greeted by gift baskets complete with t-shirts and games –perfect for this uber-competitive family. The family enjoyed the gorgeous log home to its fullest possible. The pool table hosted many family tournaments (no one is saying who the big winner was!), and the same for cutthroat Scrabble games. The beautiful kitchen allowed for the family to cook together, one of their favorite things to do. Simple family time was exactly what this family of six craved. While the House was wonderful, the surrounding nature afforded amazing opportunities.
Believe In Tomorrow pontoon boat was used every day of the week-long visit. Swimming, fishing, and cruising were on the agenda, horseback riding topped the week off as well as time at the Wisp Resort on the mountain coaster and adventure course. Michele and Dave said that during their stay,”We realized how far from normal our family had been for the past year. We couldn’t remember the last time we played a game after dinner. We didn’t know until we went away how desperately our family needed time together.”
“We were reconnected as a family during our time at Wisp Mountain, and we left at the end of the week reenergized and refocused.”
The family marveled at the effect that the respite stay had on their own family and brainstormed how they could help other families in their situation. The Schaefers began to share their experience in Clinic, encouraging other families to make the time to go away together. Additionally, Dave had made a mental note that the bathrooms at the House used materials from his employer, Mansfield Plumbing.
While reading a Believe In Tomorrow Newsletter, Dave learned that we are building a companion house in Deep Creek, adjacent to the home that his family visited. He discovered that Believe In Tomorrow employs a “barn-raising” approach when building new properties and we are actively looking for donated goods and services for the new house. Dave had found his way to give back to Believe In Tomorrow. Mansfield Pluming’s Community Involvement Initiative made it easy for Dave to meet with his Director of Human Resources and explain the impact that the Respite Housing Program had on his family during William’s illness. The company agreed to donate toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and shower inserts to the effort! Thanks to aware families, and dedicated donors, the second Deep Creek Respite House is scheduled to open in early 2018.
And of course, we need a quick update about William. He has just started his junior year in high school, and was named Captain of the Varsity soccer team! Way to go William!