CINCINNATI — This Thanksgiving, take a break from turkey, football and Black Friday ads to think about Kelly and Jeff Clemence and their two kids.
Both Mason, who is 5, and Lizzy, who is 6, have a rare condition called DNA ligase IV deficiency. Both had bone marrow transplants at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Little Mason has the additional complication of graft-versus-host disease and now gets regular treatments of "photopheresis" at Cincinnati Children's.
The treatments require removing all the blood from his body, treating it with ultraviolet light, and then putting it back. The whole thing leaves him tired and shivering because the blood is cold when it goes back into him.
On this Thanksgiving, the Clemences will gather for dinner at the Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House right next door to Cincinnati Children's, six hours away from the rest of their relatives in Springfield, Illinois.
But like so many of the parents who stay at Ronald McDonald House while their kids are treated, Kelly Clemence doesn't dwell on what she's missing back home.
"It's hard," she said. "But I mean, we have family here. Our Ronald McDonald House family."
That's the thing about the Ronald McDonald House and the more than 1,500 families who stay there each year.
It could be a place filled with sadness. These are families with sick kids, after all. And sadness is unavoidable sometimes.
But mostly it's a place filled with hope and strength and celebrating progress and milestones — even at Thanksgiving for families far from home.
That part of it continues to amaze Jennifer Goodin, the long-time executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati.
"You'd think it would be really sad," she said. "But what I see is that they've formed a new family and a new support network, and it's kind of like a surrogate family here at the house that helps them through the rough times."
The holidays, she said, "are really joyous."
That came through loud and clear the afternoon I visited with Kelly and Lizzy Clemence and Cathy Hagler. Hagler is Mom to Kelly and Nana to the kids. Hagler will be with the Clemences on Thanksgiving, along with her husband, "Pawpaw."
Lizzy practically bounced around the place, chasing a ball up and down the stairs, hugging a turkey made of balloons and rolling a noisy toy around the floor.
Lizzy has had her own health struggles, her mom said. But she has been doing well enough to go to school now and didn't have any problems with graft-versus-host disease after her bone marrow transplant.
Lizzy told me she likes playing in the two play rooms at the Ronald McDonald House — especially with the Barbie dolls.
Mason dozed in his stroller the whole time I was there. The little guy was tired and cold from a photopheresis treatment he had finished about an hour earlier.
But Kelly and her mom were quick to show off pictures of Mason in the Buzz Lightyear costume he wore for Halloween and of him smiling when he celebrated his fifth birthday, all taken at the Ronald McDonald House where he and his mom have been staying.
Kelly Clemence smiled broadly as she talked about the difference the treatments are making for her son. She and Mason expect to be at Ronald McDonald House until February, she said, while he gets the treatments several times each week.
"I'm thankful for photopheresis," she said. "I'm thankful that we have a place to be together."
That's a sentiment that Goodin hears a lot from parents who are grateful for the support that Ronald McDonald House provides them.
And that's why I think you should take a minute to think about the Clemence family. Not to feel sorry for the kids and the parents and all they continue to go through. But to learn from their determination to be thankful for what they have and the time they have together.
That's what I plan to do.
For more information about Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati or to donate, go to http://www.rmhcincinnati.org.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.