“One minute on a Friday morning, I was at work with high heel boots and stockings on, and the other minute I was sleeping on hospital beds.” The diagnosis came out of nowhere. And when it was confirmed, Rosann had to move quickly --- to a foreign city in a brand new country and into a whole new world --- move to get the life-saving treatment her baby desperately needed.
A battery of blood tests conducted on Kaeley just before her 2nd birthday returned abnormal. Doctors in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a small Caribbean island nation with a population of just over 115,000, instructed the family to go to a bigger hospital for more screening. Tests carried out in Barbados, a 45-minute plane ride away, confirmed that Kaeley had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. “We went home and packed a bag. We went crazy. It was all going so fast. Our whole world turned upside down,” Rosann recounts.
Doctors in Barbados sent out referrals to hospitals in Miami, New York and Toronto for Kaeley’s treatment. “We didn’t care at that point where we were going because we just realized that we had a little girl dying on us and we didn’t have any option.” The only hospital to respond was SickKids.
When they boarded the air ambulance in Barbados on a warm day in September 2011, Rosann was instructed to bring only her daughter and one small overnight bag. After flying four hours to Miami and then two more hours to Toronto, Rosann arrived in Canada on a cool fall day with open-toed sandals and her youngest, weak and weary daughter in her arms. In addition to the leukemia, Kaeley had two extra cancer cells in her spinal column that could spread to her brain eventually. Time was of the essence.
“We had no family here, we had nobody to resort to, we had no clothes. We had nothing. It was so hard. I mean those couple months I swear I did not exist. This is not me, this is somebody else.”
Soon they found a cousin who lived in Mississauga. They stayed with his family and commuted to SickKids for several weeks --- until an accidental fire ravaged the home they were living in, leaving Rosann with severe burns to her hands and legs and unable to walk for weeks. Kaeley luckily, escaped unscathed.
The family got word of space available at Ronald McDonald House Toronto shortly after the fire. They moved into House in December 2011. “I think this place is just absolutely amazing. I’ve met really wonderful people. You bond with people from different backgrounds and situations. It makes your situation so much easier to deal with.”
Being able to stay at the House had even more meaning for Rosann. After months of being separated, Rosann was able to have her 11-year-old daughter Kasie join here in Toronto. Rosann’s mom also came to Canada to support her daughter and granddaughter --- all of them living in a two-bedroom unit.
All three generations of the family have been able to support Kaeley and each together under the same roof. “She has lost her hair, had some mouth sores and her joints have weakened. She has been very strong though, especially for a 2-year-old.“ Rosann believes there is something wonderful planned for her youngest daughter’s life.
Kaeley endures weekly chemotherapy treatments and will undergo a two-year maintenance phase including getting chemo by IV. She will also need a lumbar puncture to address the cancer cells in her spine. The family is most thankful for the medical care she’s received in Toronto. “In the past, things often go wrong with the chemo in the Caribbean, as things aren’t as specialized there since they don’t have the same resources.”
Thanks to Ronald McDonald House Toronto, Rosann, her mom and two girls have been able to remain hopeful. “Keeping my family together is the most important to me, especially with everything that my daughter has been through.”