Beyond the revolving doors, past the wheelchairs, resides the entrance to the POGO Satellite Clinic. Like a parent's bedside after a bad dream, it's a place where children go to feel safe. These children are battling cancer. The clinic is one of eight in Ontario.
Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario (POGO) offers financial assistance to families to help ease some of the burdens associated with a childhood cancer diagnosis. POGO Satellite Clinics bring care closer to home for these families, also easing the burden of travel.
POGO Satellite Clinic Coordinator, and Resource Nurse for Children's Outpatient Clinic, Cristina Peter has been with Grand River Hospital for eight years, "this was always where I wanted to be, in pediatric oncology." She describes the best part of the job as "seeing the kids coming in looking well - able to receive their treatment, leave, and return to school."
"Kids go through this and it's the hardest journey of their lives, but many times they're happy, singing, dancing and playing. It's just amazing."
The GRH POGO Satellite Clinic is the only hospital that sees children from all three tertiary centres; The Hospital for Sick Children, London Health Sciences and McMaster Children's Hospital. Kids come to the clinic for anything from bloodwork, to chemotherapy. Clinic staff remain in communication with pediatric oncologists from the referral hospital.
Peter says all of the children are special to her, although; the ones that are diagnosed in the clinic hold an extra emotional connection. "Jonathan (J.T.) is one of the many families in our area that came in with symptoms and was diagnosed in our clinic. So, we were there when he had his first bloodwork done and results come in. Watching the family go through a cancer diagnosis is heartbreaking, but at the same time when you see them coming back feeling well and happy then it just helps us deal with the grief as well."
Leanne Kukla, J.T.'s mom, recalls their cancer journey, "J.T. hadn't been well for months but we didn't know what it was." Eventually they were referred to Sick Kids. On January 31, 2018 Jonathan's family received a cancer diagnosis; non-Hodgkins's T cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, stage 3. He was 10.
Childhood cancer affects the entire family. During critical stages of his treatment, J.T. and his mom lived at the Ronald McDonald House, in Toronto - separated from his dad and sister; Amber. Once he was in the intermittence phase, he was referred to the GRH POGO Satellite Clinic.
Again, they found themselves facing fear of change, "we were comfortable with the team in Toronto. We didn't know what to expect or who we'd be working with."
During their first visit they met Cristina. Leanne knew it was going to be ok when J.T. turned to her and said, "you know I think it's going to be nice here."
With treatment now 15 minutes from home, J.T. can attend school and sleeps soundly in his own bed - under the same roof as his mom, dad and sister.
"I can do anything, pretty much. I play hockey, I have a tournament this weekend, I'm excited for that."
The Kukla family has also accessed POGO's financial support - including meals and accommodations. "It's not something you expect to have to spend, you have to and you don't think twice about it but having the extra support, it's been helpful."
J.T. is in treatment until June 2020.
Find out more about POGO here.
KW Run for POGO happens early fall, find out more here.