It’s a mild Tuesday morning and four Lathwell boys sport matching red thermals while finishing bowls of cereal around the table at the SunTrust Suite in the Believe In Tomorrow House at St. Casimir. Their father, Kevin Lathwell, energetically wipes down the table and introduces the grinning boys.
“They love it here because at home we don’t have a TV,” says Lathwell, who lives an hour and forty minute-drive away from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Hedgesville, W.V. “These are big hockey guys.”
Ten minutes later an older boy peers into the living room. Eventually, a blonde, little girl wanders out from a bedroom. Lathwell explains that he has two more children away at college. Lathwell’s ninth child, however, Thomas, 9, is the reason the Lathwells came to stay at St. Casimir. Seven years ago Thomas began battling reoccurring bouts with leukemia. The just-large-enough suite at St. Casimir allowed the family to come out in full force to support Thomas through his latest leukemia battle. And with more than a month behind them and probably several months to go, Lathwell believes having the family around Thomas makes a world of difference.
Thomas was first diagnosed with leukemia at 2-years-old.
“He seemed like he had a cough that just kept going,” says Lathwell. “We took him in and did a blood test and right away they knew. They called us that day. It’s been a long haul.”
The long haul included 30 days of initial treatment then maintenance on long weekends, when the family stayed at the Believe In Tomorrow Children’s House at Johns Hopkins to be across the street from the hospital. After two years, the Lathwell family thought Thomas recovered completely, but September 2006 Thomas relapsed and required a bone marrow transplant. In July of that year, he relapsed again. This time, Thomas’s brother Nicholas, now 11, was a perfect bone marrow match for his brother’s transplant. July 2006 was the first time the family came to stay at St. Casimir. They stayed one hundred days past bone marrow transplant.
“It was wonderful, I mean considering I still had my expenses back there and, you know, we needed something that was affordable and big enough,” says Lathwell. “And then with the laundry facilities downstairs, walking distance to Safeway, and with the church, it’s all pretty convenient.”
The Lathwells brought Thomas back for maintenance treatment every couple of months. September 2008, at two years post transplant, doctors declared Thomas cured.
Come February 2009, though, Thomas began to bruise badly and look jaundiced again. The Lathwells arrived at Believe In Tomorrow’s House at St. Casimir Feb. 10. A quick rearrangement of the three bedroom suite allowed the family to make their “home-away-from-home” and set up a rotation for all of Thomas’s siblings to visit him in the hospital.
“That’s an important part of the puzzle too, having family with Tommy,” says Lathwell. “I mean just being in the hospital forty days, I can’t imagine. He’s on that floor forty days.”
During the six plus years of treatment, the Lathwells also visited the Believe In Tomorrow House By The Sea and the Believe In Tomorrow House on Wisp Mountain, both respite properties, when Thomas was in remission.
“Vacations with seven, eight, nine kids, when most income goes to feeding this crew, it’s very difficult,” says Lathwell. “Tommy loves the beach. And being together as a family? That’s what it’s all about.”
Lathwell also remembers the family vacation to Wisp Mountain fondly: “That was just a wonderful getaway. To be able to take a breath, and you know, come back to reality every once in awhile.”
*At publication, Thomas’s white blood cell count was up and his father said he would be able to start chemo and get a transplant soon. Lathwell expected he would stay at the Believe In Tomorrow House at St. Casimir another 130 days.