Stephen Radu was a living the life of a normal 14-year-old up until November 2006.
The Lacombe teenager played soccer at the Collicutt Centre, was a guitarist and an honour student.
Then he started to feel sick and have severe headaches. His parents Richard and Brenda Radu thought he had a nasty flu, until the fateful day they took him in for a CT scan and it showed that there was a cancerous tumour at his brain stem.
Stephen was immediately taken to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton for surgery, radiation and high dose chemotherapy, which helped to stop the cancer, but also wiped out white blood cells.
He was transferred to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary to undergo “stem cell rescue,” which used his own stem cells to kick-start his immune system.
As he received the therapy and began his recovery, from April to July of 2007, the Radu family — including mom Brenda, dad Richard, their daughter Lara and eventually Stephen — stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary.
Brenda and Richard would take turns staying at the hospital with Stephen or sleeping at Ronald McDonald House, which is kitty-corner to the Children’s Hospital in Calgary.
“From a coping standpoint, it was invaluable,” Richard said. “We just were so lucky to have it there. It was not just a place to get away from the hospital, but also a place to meet other parents who were going through similar trials and trying to cope whatever way they needed to.”
“We learned a lot from the friends we made there. We shared a lot of parents’ grief and joys, ups and downs.”
After the surgery, Stephen didn’t talk for four months and lost his mobility. He stayed at Ronald McDonald House along with his family after being discharged from hospital because he still needed to be examined by doctors on a daily basis.
There were often events or special visitors at the house and Stephen at one point got to meet speedskater Cindy Klassen and even try on her Olympic medal.
“The proximity to the hospital was just a godsend,” Richard said.
Now two years later, Stephen’s cancer is gone and he can talk and walk with the help of a walker.
“His balance is a little bit off. It’s been a long steady uphill battle, but every day he is that much stronger,” Richard said.
Now his son is 16 and back in school, attending Grade 11 at Lacombe Composite High School, where he continues to take a demanding course load, preparing for university.
Richard said he is excited there will be a Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer and as a Kinsmen in the Lacombe area, he is encouraging regional Kin groups to support the project.
“We definitely saw the value of it in Calgary,” he said. “With the Ronald McDonald House, we could concentrate on what we needed to concentrate on rather than worrying about where am I going to sleep tonight.”