Watching, helping, caring from a special vantage point, her place of employment in the hotel across the street, iVillager Karen Edgar became one of many who played a special part in the lives of St. Jude families. Here, she shares her unique St. Jude experience:
I'm a parent with St. Jude experience '- but not quite the experience you'd expect. I live in Memphis, Tennessee, and I used to work in hotel management across the street from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Before Ronald McDonald House was established, only hotels offered discounts to the families displaced by unanticipated long-term trips to St. Jude. For a cancer kid, the success rate back then was about as miserable as the accommodations. St. Jude negotiated room rates with us, and we accommodated the families, but this generally meant that they'd spend months impounded in a tiny hotel room with no space for that sort of long-term residency.
For the staff, it meant meeting a bright, happy family from anywhere on the planet, with a lively, happy kid who eventually got to know everyone. The kid would get skinnier over time and then come in with his head shaved and a map drawn on it.
As treatment started, the kid would be less and less visible (spending more time in the hospital), the parents more visibly exhausted, the siblings more and more pent up and confused. They would start ordering wake-up calls about every six hours.
The energy and stress had to go somewhere, so we decided to start a kind of "mother's day out" in the afternoons, when hotel staff members who were off duty would come and play in the banquet halls or in the pool with the cancer kids and their siblings, giving Mom time to read a book or write letters or just chill. We thought of games and stuff to do.