As a military family, Eric and Cheryl Browning and their sons Darien and Connor are used to facing hard challenges and sticking together. Eric, who is stationed at Camp Lejeune, has been deployed to Iraq twice and was injured during his first tour by a blast from an improvised explosive device- a road bomb.
But the Brownings faced their biggest challenge four years ago when 20-month-old Connor was diagnosed with a brain tumor that extended down his entire spine. Since that time, Connor has been through numerous treatments that have been successful in shrinking the tumor in his brain; the tumor in his spine is stable.
“Having a child with cancer is the hardest thing we have ever been through,” says Cheryl. “It is hard on a marriage to constantly be stressed out and worried. We never know what night Connor will end up in the ER or transported to UNC. We live three hours from the hospital and have to make a trip every other week for treatment, which is very hard financially.”
Throughout all of their struggles, the strength of their family has helped them cope. Connor’s big brother, Darien is in 5th grade. “He has done very well keeping up his grades even though he misses school often. He is an incredible young man,” says his mom. “Connor and Darien are very close.”
Although they had first learned about Ronald McDonald Houses in high school, Cheryl told us, “We never thought we’d have to set foot in one, but when Connor first had brain surgery, the nurses referred us to the House, because only one of us could stay with him.”
“We were stunned to learn that there was a place to stay so close to the hospital that felt so home-like and cost so little. We were amazed at the friendliness of the staff and we met so many families going through as bad or worse of a time. Everyone reached out to help one another and this helped us deal with our situation better.”
When Connor arrives, the first question he asks is often, “Where are Mabel and Pepper?” He is a very loving boy and especially loves the “House dogs.” As Eric says, “Cancer does not define him. He has an amazing personality and strength about him. He just wants to be treated like every other child out there, even though he knows there is something different about him and what he is going through.”
“The Ronald House is our second home,” says Cheryl. “And the staff is our extended family.” All of us here at the House feel lucky to be a part of this special family’s journey. The strength of their “Unit of Four” offers support and care to everyone.