Phoebe Rose Rocks Ronald McDonald’s House

Grief is a deeply personal experience and journey. Everyone goes through it differently. It’s not something you get over, but rather something you live with. It’s even more apparent when death comes too quickly. Phoebe Rose Doull-Hoffman was born in 2010. She had been diagnosed with mixed lineage (MLL+) infantile leukemia since she was two months old. This is an aggressive and difficult to treat and cure leukemia with a very poor prognosis – just 20% of babies with high risk disease survive five years. Phoebe passed away in November 2015 and would’ve turned 6 this week.

To honor Phoebe, and as part of the Phoebe Rose Rocks Foundation to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research, Marion (Phoebe’s aunt and my close friend), her family and friends organized a dinner last weekend for families staying at the Ronald McDonald House. I felt really honored to be invited to join in this activity. Not only because it’s a special thing to be included in someone’s journey through grief, but it’s also how I’ve been living with my own grief – by doing things that Muriel would find fun and for a good cause.

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For prep day at the Pacific Institute for Culinary Arts (PICA), we met Marion’s husband Scot who works at PICA and was the leader of our group “Team Vancouver”. It was my first time at PICA and I was seriously impressed by the facilities and makes me want to take a class there, especially when Scott revealed the meal we would be serving. My mouth couldn’t (and still can’t) stop watering.

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Here was what was on the menu:

  • Home-made BBQ sauce marinated pulled pork sandwiches topped with fresh coleslaw.
  • For the vegetarians, grilled summer vegetables on a bed of salad in a spinach wrap.
  • Caesar-salad (I made the dressing from scratch, with help from the chef.)
  • 3-bean salad in a lemon-infused vinagarette.
  • 100+ hand-made chocolate cupcakes topped with icing and sprinkles.

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I’d heard of the Ronald McDonald House before but never new it played such an important and critical role for families and children. For over thirty years, Ronald McDonald House BC and Yukon (RMH BC) has been providing accommodation for seriously ill children and their families when they must travel to Vancouver for their child’s major treatment. Originally located in a 13-bedroom home in Shaughnessy, the House is now in an amazing 73-bedroom complex, including multiple kitchen facilities, lounge areas for families and children, indoor and outdoor exercise gyms, and a very cool indoor slide, on the grounds of BC Children’s Hospital.

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We were so prepared that the team set up and was ready well before families trickled in for dinner. With a little bit of time to spare, we were given a tour by the friendly volunteers who showed us around and even let us try the slide. The highlight of the night was serving dinner to the families who were staying at the House. It’s a humbling experience to see that a small gesture of cooking for someone can bring relief to many of the moms, dads, siblings, and families who were there for their sons or daughters.

Grieving is different for everyone. And that there good and not-so-good milestones along the way. Doing something like this really helped me with my grief and I wouldn’t hesitate to get back in the kitchen to do it all over again!

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Ride Don’t Hide

Living with grief definitely affects my mental health and it’s made me realize that despite the “norm”, everyone at some point suffers from a mental health issue. It’s pretty easy to think about our physical health and take steps to keep in shape – like exercising, watching what we eat, or even wearing sunscreen to protect our skin. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), safeguarding our mental health is just as important.

Many of us don’t consciously make an effort to stay mentally healthy. Mental health isn’t just about mental illness, its about feeling good about who you are, having balance in your life and in your thinking, and responding constructively to life’s highs and lows. Everyone should practice good mental health.

Because my grief is linked to mental health, I jumped at the chance to volunteer for the Ride Don’t Hide movement to support and raise awareness about why mental health is so important.

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My family and I teamed up to be route marshals for an important segment of the 60km route of the event. This “hair-pin” turn off the No. 2 Road Bridge in Richmond was a tricky one because the cyclists needed to come off the bridge and immediately turn onto a small bike path that led them to a residential area just across from the Vancouver International Airport. Of the 1200 cyclists that registered for the event, half of them (around 600) passed our post.

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As the crew for the No. 2 Road Bridge and Dover Park, we cheered riders on and directed riders to keep to the route… I even had to help someone fix their bike chain! All in all, waking up early to volunteer for a couple hours on a Sunday morning was really rewarding – the sunny weather definitely made the day much more enjoyable!

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The Ride Don’t Hide movement began on 1 August 2010, as Vancouver teacher and newspaper columnist Michael Schratter cycled 40,000 km, crossing six continents and 33 countries. In addition to raising funds for CMHA, Michael’s mission was to circumnavigate the world, sharing stories with people in different countries, to bring awareness to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Here are some interesting stats about mental health in Canada:

  • 1 in 10 Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 7 Canadian women experience depression in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 8 Canadians experience a mood disorder like depression in their lifetime.
  • About 1.2 million Canadian children and youth experience a mental illness, but less than 20% receive help.