Reagan riding a bicycle




After asking for a blood test for her four-year-old son Reagan, Perth mum Kaye Weguelin was told it was unnecessary. The young boy had what appeared to be a persistent throat infection but she knew something else was going on.

Kaye suspected her son was suffering glandular fever and refused to back down with the blood test request. When it was finally carried out the results came back negative for glandular fever, but positive for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

“My heart stopped that day,” she says. “I remember everything so clearly. I remember what I was wearing, what I had for lunch and what was on the television. It was 7.20pm on a Thursday night when we were told and I grabbed a sick bag because I thought I was going to vomit.”

Reagan was immediately transported from Fremantle Hospital to Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, where he began an intensive, nine-month chemotherapy program. Kaye and her husband Rodney would tag team, one staying with Reagan in hospital during the day and the other coming in at night. At home, daughter Morgan [now 11] bravely tried to come to terms with the fact that her family was torn in two.

At the hospital the pressure of life on the ward was relieved intermittently by the use of the Ronald McDonald Family Room, Kaye says.

"That little room, where we made meals and managed to relax a little, is very much a godsend for any family on that ward," Kaye says. "You can get away from the clinical nature of the ward while never being far from your child."

“Also, you spend a lot of time on the ward having clinical conversations with medical staff, but in the Family Room you meet lots of other parents, all of whom share really useful, practical advice.”

Reagan’s treatment moved from daily to fortnightly and finally to an oral chemo tablet, meaning he could be released from the hospital. It was time for the family to become one, again.

One of the most useful pieces of information gleaned from other parents on the ward was about the Ronald McDonald Family Retreat, a luxurious holiday house set up for families whose children have suffered serious illness.

Once Reagan [now six] was well enough, Kaye completed a simple online application and soon the family was off for a week of desperately needed togetherness at the Ronald McDonald Family Retreat in Bunbury, 185 kilometres south of Perth.

“We went in January this year,” Kaye says. “We hadn’t been away anywhere since he was diagnosed, and Reagan is still restricted with swimming in public pools etc. So this was the perfect getaway. We just wanted to have the time and space to re-connect.”

Prior to his diagnosis, young Reagan had almost been ready to remove his training wheels from his bicycle, and at the Family Retreat he found a small bicycle and, during the week, finally taught himself to ride.

“The week at the Ronald McDonald Family Retreat was a really nice chance to make lots of memories as a family,” Kaye says. “Those sorts of memories, for all of us, will last a lifetime.”

*Photos by Kate Drennan Photography