Ronald McDonald House

Sharing the Hope

June, 2009

By Gene Davis

Each and every day here at the Ronald McDonald House, families sit down and talk together about what they are going through. More experienced families guide the less experienced, and children reassure one another about what lies ahead. They share each other’s exhilarating medical victories and frustrating setbacks. The closeness families feel is difficult to describe.

May Toa
May Toa
Not long ago, a chance meeting here by two young cancer patients resulted in a special moment that really brought home for all of us the true essence of the Ronald McDonald House experience.

“Don’t worry May, your hair will grow back. Mine did, see?” said seven–year–old Ruthie Mersburgh of Kailua–Kona, showing off her flowing, sun–kissed locks. Ruthie had sensed her new friend’s uncertainties, and was comforting her.

What brought special meaning to us was that we knew not long ago Ruthie herself was fearful and confused about her cancer, and in need of inspiration. She got that encouragement from other children that were staying at the House when she arrived, and now Ruthie was passing it on.

Her cancer in remission, Ruthie was staying at the House for a couple of nights with her mom and dad while she underwent her periodic testing at Kapiolani Medical Center. Previously, the family had spent several months at the House during Ruthie’s long treatments. Eight year old May Lisa Toa, on the other hand, was still actively battling her cancer. With her mother Miliama and sister Seeseei always by her side, May continues to reside at the Judd Hillside Ronald McDonald House, waiting for doctors to allow her to return home.

May Toa (right) met cancer survivor Ruthie Mersburgh at the Ronald McDonald House
May Toa (right) met cancer survivor Ruthie Mersburgh at the Ronald McDonald House
May comes from Masausi, American Samoa. She was diagnosed with leukemia on June 27, 2008 and was flown immediately to Honolulu with her Miliama. Seeseei chose to temporarily withdraw from college to join them, while dad Alose, a cab driver, stayed at home to work and look after May’s two brothers.

For the Toas, the suddenness of their emergency was stunning, and being away from their home and family is very difficult. “Our family is extremely close,” Seeseei told us recently. “Not a day goes by that we don’t talk with them on the phone.”

“She misses her dad so much,” Miliama added, gazing over at May, who was happily teaching herself how to play the piano nearby. “The only thing she wants to do when she gets home is to spend the whole day with dad.”

Now, as the weeks have turned into months, their strength is being tested as never before. However, their faith is not a problem. “Our family is very spiritual,” Seeseei said. “The most important thing is for May to get well, but we believe that even in these hard times, each day brings us many blessings. In fact, we feel blessed to have met and received the support of everyone at the Ronald McDonald House, including the other people staying here.”

Miliama, May and Seeseei playing the piano
Miliama, May and Seeseei playing the piano
For the Toas, the chance encounter that day with Ruthie couldn’t have happened at a better time. “Others give us courage to stay strong,” Seeseei said. “When May met Ruthie, it really meant a lot to her. She could totally identify.”

Now it is up to May to persevere and fight for her future, just as Ruthie has done. May has undergone five rounds of chemotherapy, and has handled her treatments well. The nausea and pain she felt couldn’t stop her from flashing that wide smile of hers. When you are the recipient of one of those wonderful smiles, it can make your day.

It certainly won’t be surprising at all to one day see May “sharing the hope” herself—reaching out to another bewildered youngster with a serious medical condition, and using soothing words to help make things better.

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