“I envisioned I would come with my friends to go to New York for a girls’ weekend, or come with my children to go to Disney World,” she says. “Never for a second did I think my family would be dislocated and separated for weeks on end while my daughter Robyn received treatment.”
However, on January 5, the Higgins family left their home in Frimley, England to check into the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House for what would become a four-month stay. Robyn, age eight, was diagnosed in May of 2009 with stage four neuroblastoma after feeling pain in her knee. After undergoing chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and a stem cell transplant in her native England, Robyn’s cancer went into remission; because of the high rate of relapse, the Higginses decided to come to the United States where an immunotherapy treatment not available in Europe is offered. The therapy targets microscopic neuroblastoma cells in the body, attaches antibodies to them, and teaches the body to fight them off, in addition to boosting the immune system.
The deposit alone for the treatment is $400,000, which the Higginses started fundraising towards immediately. “We never thought we’d ever, ever get there,” Lisa says. “But if somebody told you that on the moon, for a million dollars, there was something that offered an increase in survival for your child, you’d find that money somewhere,” Lisa says. Through the support of their friends and family, the Higginses met their goal and, in the midst of a winter snowstorm, arrived in Philadelphia to start treatment at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Staying at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House has made being in a new place during this challenging time easier. “It provides this continuity that you need in your life when you are in a very hard place,” Lisa says. “When you are so far away from home, small problems can be extremely magnified; the staff helps put things into perspective, and helps me to continue to parent Robyn.”
Lisa also appreciates that the House allows Robyn to be around children who are going through the same thing. “The best thing is that there are other children here with neuroblastoma still fighting or in remission,” she says. “Even though Robyn doesn’t know the ins and outs, it is good to see her meet the other children. Allowing her to be a child again is where the House comes to the forefront.”
And, when Lisa’s husband Greg – a homicide detective with the Metropolitan Police – and her 11-year-old son Tommy come to stay, the House makes them feel at home as well. “Tommy loves it here. He likes going to the Teen Center and playing Pac-Man. This House is built for children. ”
At the end of May, Robyn finished her immunotherapy treatment as well as her physiotherapy, enabling her to regain the ability to walk, which she had been unable to do since the surgery to remove the tumor in her pelvis damaged her nerves. On May 30, they packed their bags and headed back to England, where Robyn will return to second grade. In July, the House will welcome the Higginses back when they return to the hospital for a week of follow-up care.
“Our family is so grateful for the love, support, and shelter that we’ve been given during our stay throughout a very difficult time,” Lisa says. “What I always think about is that the children here have been through more in their little lives than, hopefully, we will ever go though. And they don’t choose to be brave - they have to be. Just like the parents don’t choose to be strong – we have to be.”