Mathew’s mom, Carine, firmly believes that God works in mysterious ways. When her son was a toddler, she had to take a leave of absence from work due to a back injury. At the time, Mathew was a boisterous and energetic toddler who loved to eat and run around. While at home resting on the couch she realized that Mathew wasn’t eating nor did he have the level of energy he once did. “He was always eating, ever since he was born, he was a grazer,” Carine remembers. “I thank God I hurt my back, as I was laying home in pain, I noticed a behavior change. When you’re at work, you can miss out on little details, but those little details make up the bigger picture.” At only two years old, it was difficult to get to the bottom of what was happening, but she knew in her gut that something was wrong.
She made a game out of gently squeezing him in different places to see if he was in pain. That’s when she noticed his stomach was swollen and his skin was taut and shiny. Mathew had just been to his well check appointment one month prior and there were no signs or symptoms of anything being amiss with Mathew’s health. No fever. No other symptoms. But Carine knew she had to act and act fast.The following days became a myriad of confusing scans, appointments and hospital visits where they learned Mathew had a large mass in his abdomen. Mathew had a neuroblastoma, a solid tumor that had taken over his abdomen – it was so large it had pushed other organs out of place and even wrapped itself around other organs.
As fortuitous as Carine’s stay-at-home time was in seeing Mathew’s health change, she had another small miracle while in the hospital. Carine met Evelyne, another mom in the hospital whose child also had cancer, and who was also from Cameroon like Carine. They bonded over their shared heritage and faith, and Evelyne introduced Carine to Sara and The Sweet Julia Grace Foundation. At the time Carine would take notes during appointments, and have to reread them later, as she was on “survival autopilot” as she called it.
There were days when people would talk to me, and I couldn’t even remember my own name or what we were talking about. I was so shattered. I didn’t know what to do or where to start.
When she contacted Sara, her hope was to meet other families who had gone through this and get a better understanding of what lie ahead. Meeting Sara and other Raindancer families helped give Carine strength to get through the following two years. Mathew battled neuroblastoma through 13 rounds of chemotherapy, four surgeries, three bacterial infections, two bone marrow transplants and six months of immunotherapy.
During those two years, Carine, her husband, and their children felt enveloped into a family that lifted them up when they needed it most. “Just being on the Raindancer Mom's Facebook group and being able to say on a hard day, ‘I need prayers sent my way’ meant so much. Within an hour I’d be flooded with text messages and responses saying that people were there for me and praying for us,” Carine said.
It’s amazing the impact people can have on your life.
After Mathew’s first round of chemotherapy, Carine and family wanted to give back to the SJGF community and join them in surprising a fellow Raindancer family with Christmas caroling. What they didn’t know was that this years annual Christmas caroling event was for Mathew and his family! When they arrived at Sara’s home, they were surprised by hundreds of community members singing Christmas songs to them, Christmas gifts for the whole family, dinner donated by their favorite restaurant, El Tio and a special visit from Santa Claus.
SJGF stays by our families' sides to help however and whenever possible. When Carine’s husband, Tim got a new job and Mathew had to be in DC every morning for treatment, SJGF brought in members of their volunteer team so Carine and Tim didn't have to worry about how the other kids would get off to school. During the pandemic of 2020, the family was supported through the Rainy Day Program and provided with supplies and resources when needed. But the icing on the cake was Mathew's end-of-treatment celebration.
The family knew SJGF was planning a parade to celebrate Mathew beating cancer, but no one expected the firetrucks and all of the special guests! Onlookers couldn’t help but smile when passing the perfectly dressed princesses from The Princess Performer on the top of Mark Olsen’s privately owned fire truck. The parade began with Prince William County Police’s B-Squad Western District, with sirens and lights leading the way down the street to Mathew’s family home. Cars paraded past with shouts of joy, horns honking, and waves from car windows and sunroofs. Storm Troopers and Imperial Pilots marched along, and Spiderman rode by in a truck with music playing. Lawn signs, donated by SignGypsies decorated their front lawn, and moon bounces donated by Bruno's Bounce House filled the backyard. The final surprise, an ice cream truck at the end of the parade provided ice cream for everyone!
Today Mathew is in remission. He sometimes asks if he needs to go to the “office”, his reference to the hospital, anytime soon. For his short life, he’s known more “office” visits than most! But he is thriving and according to mom, back to his old self. Carine said, “He’s causing all sorts of trouble around the house, and I will gladly take that trouble!” He starts Pre-K in the fall.
Carine wants any parent who finds themselves in a similar position to have faith.
Believe in God and he will put the right people in your path. -Carine
Video of Mathew's end-of-treatment celebration!