Community and Connection at Ronald McDonald House New York

 

Polina's Story

In the heart of Manhattan, where the city's hustle and bustle seem unrelenting, there exists a House that is a haven of support to so many families called Ronald McDonald House New York. Last summer, this haven became home to Polina and her family, as they faced the challenging journey of Sophia, Polina's 2 1/2-year-old daughter, undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.

Polina and her husband, both Astoria, Queens natives, now resides in upstate New York, shared her family's story and the profound impact Ronald McDonald House New York had on their lives during an interview. She shed light on the strength, support, and community that surrounded them during their stay.

 

A Home Away from Home

The family found themselves at Ronald McDonald House New York at the end of June, seeking accommodation close to the New York Proton Center, where Sophia was receiving treatment. This haven provided a home away from home, allowing the family to focus on supporting Sophia through her medical journey.

Polina expressed gratitude for the convenience and warmth of the House, highlighting the friendly staff who made their arrival a positive experience. The initial shock of returning to city life from the tranquility of upstate New York was softened by the welcoming atmosphere and the caring individuals who greeted them at Ronald McDonald House New York.

 

Life in Upstate New York

Before Sophia's diagnosis, life in upstate New York for Polina's family was a picturesque blend of countryside living. Polina's husband worked from home, and she, a former registered dietitian, decided to stay home to care for their daughter. The slower pace of life allowed them to enjoy the beauty of the countryside, cook homemade meals, and revel in the outdoors, especially during the enchanting fall season. The family also owns land that features a small apple orchard on it. Apple picking has become a fall activity favorite for the clan.

Polina remarked on the timing of their stay at Ronald McDonald House New York. She was so excited that Sophia’s proton therapy had gone so well and that they would be able to make it home just in time to watch the leaves change.  She didn’t want Sophia to miss such a special time of year at home.

However, let’s go back to several months earlier and learn how Polina and her husband with Sophia wound up journeying to Ronald McDonald House New York in the first place. 

 

The Journey to Ronald McDonald House

Sophia's diagnosis earlier this year in May did not come easily. Polina started with a pediatrician who was sure that Sophia was fine and could not diagnose her.  When the symptoms only increased, Polina decided to seek help at a Northwell Hospital and then at Long Island Jewish where they were quickly able to spot the cancer and plan out a course of treatment for Sophia. This led to the realization that she needed proton therapy, a treatment available only in New York City.

The family had to uproot their lives temporarily and move closer to the treatment center. Polina admitted that the prospect of moving back to the city for treatment induced a mix of excitement and stress, but the unknown journey led them to Ronald McDonald House New York.

 

Finding Comfort in Unfamiliar Territory

The first day at Ronald McDonald House New York marked a blend of uncertainty and comfort. Polina recalled meeting the social worker, who went the extra mile to accommodate her cultural practices, providing battery-powered candles for Shabbat. The cleanliness, friendliness of the staff, and the beautiful lobby and first floor living in the House impressed the family, immediately calming their nerves.

 

Sophia's Treatment and Daily Life

Sophia underwent proton therapy as an outpatient at the nearby New York Proton Center, allowing her to spend the rest of the day with her family. When the family first met the doctors who would give Sophia the proton therapy treatment, Polina specifically remembers the doctor commenting that how Sophia reacts to the therapy on the first day is a clear indication of how she might take the entire treatment.

It must have been a good sign that later in the day after her first round of therapy, Sophia was full of life and energy, playing on the local playground outside and being herself as if nothing had happened. Polina shared that Sophia's positive response to treatment, evident from her active and playful nature, brought immense relief to the family.

 

Proton Therapy Corner

Proton therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses protons, which are positively charged particles, to target and destroy cancer cells. Unlike traditional radiation therapy that uses X-rays, proton therapy can deliver radiation more precisely to the tumor while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues.

Proton therapy may be considered for certain types of cancers and situations, particularly when precise targeting is crucial. Here are some situations where proton therapy might be preferred.

--Tumors near sensitive structures: Proton therapy is often considered when the tumor is located close to critical organs, such as the brain, spinal cord, eyes, or certain structures in the head and neck. The ability to control the depth of penetration of proton beams allows for more precise targeting.

--Pediatric cancers: Proton therapy is frequently used in treating pediatric cancers because it reduces radiation exposure to healthy tissues and organs, potentially minimizing long-term side effects.

--Recurrent tumors: In cases where cancer has recurred after previous radiation treatment, proton therapy might be considered as it allows for targeted treatment while sparing surrounding tissues that may have already received radiation.

--Certain types of cancers: Proton therapy may be considered for specific types of cancers, such as prostate cancer, where minimizing radiation exposure to nearby structures like the bladder and rectum is important.

In explaining this new therapy, Polina did bring up a very important point that proton therapy is not always the best option for every cancer patient. The choice of treatment depends on various factors, including the type and location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, the patient's overall health, and the goals of treatment.

For Sophia, proton therapy showed itself to be the right avenue to take her treatment. Sophia reacted as she did on day one during the rest of the week-long treatment and her parents were so thrilled to see they had made the right decision.

 

Nurturing a Sense of Normalcy

Ronald McDonald House New York played a pivotal role in nurturing a sense of normalcy for the family. The Blavatnik Family Foundation Wellness Center became a cherished space for Polina and her husband to unwind, and the fitness area, offering the luxury of custom smoothies and lattes, became a source of delight.

Polina prepares meals daily when her family is at home upstate, so she praised the kitchen facilities in the House. She expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to have the space and equipment to cook her family their own meals. This allowed for a taste of home and added to the comforting atmosphere.

 

Community and Connection

The playroom became Sophia's haven, where she immersed herself in activities like drawing and playing with building blocks. Polina emphasized the importance of the sense of community at Ronald McDonald House New York, where families from diverse backgrounds found solace in shared experiences. She highlighted the symbiotic relationship with the staff, volunteers, and other families, creating an atmosphere of support and understanding. Polina was so happy to see that Sophia was able to play as she did when they were home and even interact with other children going through similar trials, though it never registered for the kids that they were sick.

Polina was always blown away by watching Sophia in the playroom. She could see that the space and the relationships her little one formed allowed her to forget all about her treatment and simply be a kid first and foremost.

“You see it firsthand and then you can understand what that means. And you're like, wow, I I don't think I'm strong enough to even feel that happy. But the kids, they still have that light in them. So despite what they're going through, they're going to show that enthusiasm to just play and be social. It was really nice to see.”

          --Polina commented watching Sophia in the Playroom

At Ronald McDonald House New York, making sure we provide an atmosphere that promotes play and connection with the kids in the House is center to our mission. The House prides itself on being a place where kids can just be kids first, and patients second.  Sophia understood that innately and loved her playtime intensely.

 

A Call to Support the House

As the interview concluded, Polina passionately urged viewers to consider supporting Ronald McDonald House New York through donations. Her heartfelt plea emphasized the vital role the House plays in providing comfort and support to families facing the challenges of caring for a child undergoing medical treatment.

“Please donate to the Ronald McDonald House New York. Your donations go a long way. You get to help families in need. You get to help kids who need to stay with their families while being accommodated and being helped by so many wonderful volunteers that go out of their way to help these families.”

                                    -Polina’s plea to potential donors

 Memorable Moments

Polina shared lighthearted and memorable moments, such as a lively bingo night that brought families together for laughter and camaraderie. The July 4th BBQ, complete with firemen and policemen grilling, added to the festive atmosphere and highlighted the community spirit at the House.

 

Polina’s Advice to Families Coming to Stay at RMH-NY

Polina would tell them that:

“You have nothing to fear. Everything is going to be fine. This place is. You're going to feel right at home. It's very private. It's secluded, meaning you're in your room. You don't even hear the noise of the city coming into your room. If you want that, or if you want your child to feel entertained and being around other kids, you're going to get that too. If you want to make your own food, you can make that too. So you're going to feel right at home here. I wouldn't worry about a thing. That's what I would tell them.”

A Beacon of Hope

Polina and Sophia's journey at Ronald McDonald House New York reflects a story of resilience, strength, and the power of community. The House, with its unwavering support and myriad services, stands as a beacon of hope for families navigating the challenges of pediatric medical treatment. Polina's call to donate resonates as an invitation to extend that hope to others, ensuring that Ronald McDonald House New York continues its mission of providing 360-degree wraparound care focused on supporting families in critical need.


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