Ronald McDonald House
Accepting what is…
By Gene Davis
Sometimes, when you least expect it, life throws you for a loop. So it was for Kaimana (Kai) and Babby Kanekoa of Kipahulu, Maui when their four-year-old son, Kahuena was diagnosed with bladder cancer on February 17 of this year. “We were really focused on trying to build a radio station at the tme and trying to take care of the family aina in Hana,” said Kai. “We were also just beginning with the process of getting Kahuena in pre-school for the first time. It was busy, but comfortable. We felt pretty much in control of our lives.”
Overnight, they were taken by air ambulance to Honolulu without even a change of clothes. Then they were shocked to learn of Kahuena’s diagnosis and that they might need to be on Oahu for a year. The Kanekoas live in a remote area with no infrastructure, let alone near neighbors and now everything was so diﬀerent. “Oahu and the big city was the last place we wanted to be, “Babby admitted. “So we had to accept all these things that we didn’t want to accept.”
But things started going right for the Kanekoas when they were referred to the Ronald McDonald House. Babby said that “It was like a total breath of fresh air. We had our ﬁrst good night’s sleep there. There were birdsongs in the morning. It was quiet at night, and it just felt like we were out of the big city. It allowed us to regain our grounding. We realized that we were safe and comfortable and we could stay together as a family every day during Kahuena’s treatments. It was a major, major weight oﬀ of our shoulders.”
Babby said that Kahuena’s tumor appears gone but they don’t know for sure if there are still any cancer cells there. “At least we know we can spend part of the time at home now, which is great.”
Kahuena was painfully shy when he ﬁrst arrived at the Ronald McDonald House, but in the midst of everything else, began to open up. “Going through all this, Kahuena matured and developed in ways far beyond his years,” said Babby, proudly. “He’s learned character-building traits that a lot of adults never have a chance to learn in this life after having to endure what he’s had to go through—so there are many blessings hidden inside of it, and we are here to learn.”
Kahuena made his ﬁrst best friend while staying at the House—and had his ﬁrst crush when he met fellow cancer patient Trinity Dugay from Lanai. They became inseparable and Trinity was there to oﬀer comfort and gentle pats when Kahuena lost his hair. After all, she had been through it. Kahuena celebrated his ﬁfth birthday surrounded by family and his new friends. He also helped to celebrate Trinity’s seventh birthday.
The Kaneokas brought much aloha to the Ronald McDonald House. They connected so well with the other families. Babby would bake her special bread for everyone. She and Kai shared their native Hawaiian noni health tonic and oﬀered their moral support to all the families gathered each night around the dinner table.
“We got to meet some of the most amazing people at the House,” Babby reﬂected. “We met a lot of outer island people, which is great because they are a lot like we are—country folks.”
One of those families was Lili’u Ross and her teenage son Keali‘i, who also live in a very rural setting, but on the Big Island. “Lili‘u was one of these incredible women. She is so akamai, so strong and she embodies that great Hawaiian dignity.” said Babby.
Together, Babby and Lili‘u wrote a song about Kahuena and the healing power of Ronald McDonald House and Manoa Valley. Lili‘u’s music video of “Kahuena” is available for viewing on YouTube with a link from the RMHC-HI website’s homepage.
The Kanekoas were able to ﬂy home to Maui in July, but must return for regular treatments at Kapiolani Hospital. So their adventure continues, and with a new understanding and appreciation for life and its many lessons, they are stronger—both as individuals and as a family.