In 2011, the last day of school, Darla and Todd LaDage took four-year-old Carson to the doctor because he had been showing some minor neurological symptoms. He was limping off and on and stuttering on occasion. The doctor ordered an MRI, which showed Carson had a brain tumor in the brainstem.
Just days after finding the tumor, Carson’s doctors performed brain surgery.
The surgery didn’t quite go as planned. Instead of removing the entire tumor, the doctors could only do a biopsy to explore the tumor more. They gave Carson about a week to recover before putting in a port and starting chemotherapy. The chemotherapy continued for a year. Traditionally, that is where the story would end as the type of tumor Carson has typically only requires one year of treatment. Carson’s was still growing.
Keeping Carson & Darla close to the care and resources they need
Carson was sent to Memphis for radiation treatment. This was the first time they experienced the Ronald McDonald House® (RMH) and realized the value of what the House offers families like theirs.
Carson and Darla lived at Memphis RMH for nine weeks while he received treatments. Carson’s dad Todd, sister Emma and brother Riley would all come to visit during this time –they were thankful the Ronald McDonald House was able to accommodate their family. Darla was also able to bond with other families going through similar situations while she was at the RMH.
“The friendships you make at RMH are different,” shares Darla. “When you meet people who really are going through the exact same thing, the bond is instantaneous. One of my closest friends now is someone that we lived with in 2012 at RMH. We joke that our friendship is built on butter because we started talking in the community kitchen when she asked to borrow a stick of butter. This friendship and having that community where everybody does understand, it really does help you survive it.”
Seven years of treatment and counting
A year and a half after receiving radiation, they discovered Carson’s tumor was growing again. Carson was sent back to Memphis for five weeks to begin a two-year clinical trial, and they stayed at the Memphis RMH again.
“The clinical trial he’s on, which is a chemotherapy pill taken at home, morning and night, is the only treatment that has shrunk the tumor… and it shrunk it by half,” shares Darla. “Originally, we were told that he would be on the trial for two years, but we are approaching the four-year mark and the tumor remains stable… he’s doing great!”
Today, seven years after that initial diagnosis, Darla and Carson still make occasional short visits to Memphis to meet with Carson’s doctors. While they don’t stay at the Memphis RMH on these visits, they always make time to stop and see the house manager, whom they built a special relationship with while they stayed there.
“We always visit the House Manager, and I play cards with her,” shares Carson. “She keeps them in her desk and never uses them until we come to see her.”
The security of a place to stay when everything else is uncertain
The Memphis RMH provided the LaDages with a home to keep them close to the hospital. But it was more than a place to sleep and cook a meal. It was a sense of security when everything else was uncertain.
“The friendships we made at the House got us through some really difficult days,” shares Darla. “When nobody else can understand, there's someone you can call that does understand because they've lived through it. Then there’s the financial aspect of how the House helped us. This is huge too, as my husband was in school getting his Master's. He wasn't working during the time we were down at the Memphis RMH. It would have been incredibly difficult if we had to choose between going to treat our child, and not going because we didn't have a place to live or would have had to pay for it.”
In addition to their involvement with the Peoria Ronald McDonald House build, the LaDage family also helps give back to their community and the organizations that have helped them along the way. One of those efforts is Carson’s Lemonade Raid which started in 2012.
“Carson turned to his mom while he was in the kitchen one day and said 'hey, I'd like to have a lemonade stand to raise money so kids like me can get better'," said Todd. And it took off from there. This year, they crossed the $100,000 mark and they plan to continue fundraising.