Meet the Cliffton Family
Aaron (Dad) Melissa (Mom), Jerry (Big Brother), Addy Jo (Little Sister) and Mckinley (Littlest Sister)
Tell us about your family, and Addy Jo’s cancer diagnosis.
Our Story starts several years ago. Adaleah (Addy Jo) was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 2014. She was 2 1/2, Jerry was 6 and Mckinley had not even been thought of yet. Addy Jo was treated in-patient at Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital for 6 months and we lucked out, we thought. In remission for almost a year!! It was an amazing time, until it wasn’t. Addy Jo relapsed in Jan of 2016 and we knew at that time the next course for her would be to head to bone marrow transplant. So we did, and 6 months after being in-patient, she was declared a successful bone marrow transplant and we were moving on to the next phase!
Unfortunately for us and our journey, her cancer returned approximately a month later. At that time, we took her home on Hospice, as we were very lucky to have a Hospice company in our area that would do pediatrics. We were able to spend about a month at home with her, doing all the things she loved, cooking, swinging, makeup and hair and just being outside with her puppy. August 8th 2016 Addy Jo passed away at home, surrounded by everyone she loved.
How did you find out about Candlelighters programs and services?
We found out about Candlelighters while we were staying inpatient through the snack cart. We had a wonderful Candlelighters volunteer who made it her mission to make sure Addy Jo got her snacks every time, even when she was napping or in isolation for transplant. She would also make sure we never missed a Candlelighters catered dinner if we were in isolation as well. We then found out more services through our social worker at the hospital who was able to connect us and help us reach some of those services.
How did Candlelighters help throughout your cancer journey?
During our time of treatment, we were able to use the emergency funds they provided to help keep our lights on at home and a roof over our head. Unfortunately when Addy Jo went to treatment, I (Mom) moved into the hospital with her and we went from a 2 income family to a 1 income family. Jerry moved in with family so Aaron could work as much as possible. Just proof that cancer diagnosis affects way more than just the immediate family.
After Addy Jo passed, it was a volunteer at Candlelighters that gave us the “push” we needed to attend family camp, and we were suckered in from there. Now I volunteer as Camp Nurse and help lead many of the activities for the bereavement program. I have also volunteered a few times with a snack cart (back before COVID). Giving back to a group that so graciously helped us only feels right and feels even better to help those going through it now and will be going through it in the future. AND it helps that the Cancer world is its own unique place where we get to be around people that actually “get it.”
Is there anything else you would like other Candlelighters families and community to know about your experience with childhood cancer?
We’ve been through it all it seems. Diagnosis, remission, relapse, bone marrow transplant, hospice and ultimately now are bereaved. In doing so though, we have experienced things that some families never will. We have learned a different grace, compassion and perspective to life that continues to teach us everyday. We also want to share Addy Jo’s story and reach out to families in tough times. Going through our journey has taught us too, that different questions and possibilities can only be asked from people who have been there. We don’t mind trying to answer those difficult questions from our experience, hoping it may help a family going through a tough time in the future.
Is there any advice you would give to families going through cancer?
Find your people in this cancer world, don’t do it alone. Their kiddo doesn’t need to have the same diagnosis or the same surgery, but there are amazing people with amazing hearts in this unique section of the world you are in now, don’t shut them out. You really can’t do this alone.
Tell us about your family’s favorite Candlelighters activity.
Honestly, we LOVE family camp! Even as a bereaved family, Candlelighters make sure to create a space for us bereaved families too. We also enjoy the Kruse Way Christmas party, just a fun way to get the Christmas season started in our house!