Our Gift

img_8283At 60-years old you don’t really think about becoming a father, but life has a way of keeping you on your toes and giving you unexpected gifts. My grandson Marley came into our lives 3 years ago when he was 1 ½ years old. He had a tough life right from the start. An abandoned child from a dysfunctional and neglectful home, my wife Diana and I took custody of Marley. From that point forward Marley became the very center of our lives.

Marley was diagnosed as having severe Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (A chronic condition which includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior), and severe Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) (A disorder caused by a lack of attachment to any specific caregiver at an early age, and results in an inability for the child to form normal, loving relationships with others). For three years we worked tirelessly with Marley, helping him with his many physical and psychological issues and giving him the loving, stable, and nurturing environment he so desperately needed. At times it was challenging and heartbreaking for us. We went to many social workers, child psychologists, pediatricians, and psychiatrists for help; making a game plan for improving Marley’s young life. Progress was in baby steps, sometimes forward and sometimes backwards, but there was progress.

Marley changed to a happy and very bright little boy. Our new family was complete; we started the adoption process of Marley, and were very excited to officially become Marley’s mommy and daddy. For the first time in Marley’s young life, all was good. He was safe, loved and protected.

fullsizerender3In early November, things began to change. Marley lost balance control and some behavioral issues began to surface again. Working with his pediatrician, we altered his medications and dosages, but there was no improvement. I’ll never forget the feeling, sitting in the pediatrician’s office in Jamestown, New York, when the doctor asked if we could take our Marley to Buffalo to Women and Children’s Hospital which he explained specialized in children’s health. The conversation was quite simple. He asked if we could take Marley and I said “Yes, sure we can, when would you like us to take Marley there?” The doctor’s answer was immediate and scary, as he said “Right now, as soon as you leave my office.” He said he would call ahead to let them know we were on our way. He instructed us to take Marley directly to their emergency room, explaining that they will know what to do after he brought them up to speed about Marley’s exams.

In Buffalo, after many MRI’s, bone marrow exams, and spinal tap, our Marley was diagnosed as having a brain tumor in the Pons area of the brain. (Pons is a major structure in the upper part of your brainstem. It is involved in the control of breathing, communication between different parts of the brain, and sensations such as hearing, taste, and balance.)

I am a retired Chief Construction Electrician in the US Navy Civil Engineer Corps. I am also a Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist. In my 38-year Military career, I served during Vietnam, and in Bosnia and Iraq. But nothing can ever prepare you for the shock, helplessness and feeling of being lost hearing those words, “Marley has a brain tumor and because of the tumor’s size and location, we can’t operate. It’s too risky.” It was like a time bomb went off. In the previous 4 months, I had just lost my youngest brother to cancer, our sister-in-law had a brain tumor removed, and now my Marley was diagnosed with the disease.

You never think that this could happen to you or that you would need the Ronald McDonald House. I had seen advertisements on TV about the Ronald McDonald House. I always thought that the concept was a very good idea but always looked at it from the perspective of never having to need it. I was so wrong.

My first impression of the Buffalo Ronald McDonald House was that it was like an old Southern mansion, reminding me of the mansions I saw when I was stationed in the South. But the greatest impact was when we walked through the front doors. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, cozy and not at all like a “plastic covered furniture” house. It was a home.

img_8210Marley’s cancer is very aggressive and can spread rapidly. Treatment needed to begin immediately, but in order to develop a treatment plan, a tissue sample was needed. The surgical procedure required to retrieve the sample involved drilling a hole in Marley’s skull and guiding a probe to the exact spot for a sample tissue using MRI and GPS for accuracy. It was a very delicate procedure and any one of many things could go wrong in the process. He could end up on a kidney dialysis machine for the rest of his life. He might need a respirator for life. He might become paralyzed from the neck down. He might never wake up and remain in a coma. The Doctors needed our permission to proceed. Diana and I were terrified. How can any parent make this decision even knowing that if we didn’t give permission, Marley had little or no chance of surviving much longer?

The Ronald McDonald House became our sanctuary, a place to decompress and clear our minds. At the House, we are surrounded by people who care. We are able to talk to other parents going through the same thing. It helps a lot; it takes a lot of pressure out of the pressure cooker.

Marley came through the procedure with flying colors. His treatment began. Both chemo and radiation five days per week for 6 weeks, two days rest on Saturday and Sunday.
We came to realize that the Ronald McDonald House allows us to focus entirely on our family members who need our undivided attention. I honestly don’t have to think about anything but Marley, everything is taken care of.

img_8170Marley’s a really tough little 4-year old. He doesn’t complain or question our judgement. In between treatments, we spend our time at the House being a family, playing games, raiding the fridge and cherishing our time together.

This is just the start of a very, very long journey towards Marley’s recovery. We are blessed by having so many kind people praying for his health and complete recovery. We have the best doctors, nurses, and equipment possible for Marley. We have our faith in God. We have our “Home away from Home”.

Today I am blessed and happy to have Marley around. We are now in the process of finalizing Marley’s adoption but today in my heart, he is my little Tasmanian devil. He is my son.

Bradley S. Swanson