The tears come unbidden as Ronette Samdal recalls that summer day when her 12-year-old daughter, Berkley, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“It was pretty wild,” Ronette said. “We had no time. She was so critical, we went to the ER, and everything just went really, really fast.”
Berkley, a fun-loving seventh-grader-to-be at Lakeshore Middle School, had been suffering from leg aches, extreme fatigue and headaches for more than a week before her parents took her to the doctor on July 12. A blood test at the family physician’s office revealed dangerously low blood counts.
The girl was rushed to Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, where further tests confirmed her doctor’s suspicions.
“They took some more blood, and the oncologist who was on call came in right away,” Ronette said. “It was probably 1, 1:30 in the morning, and they told us it was leukemia. The next day, they had a procedure to put in her port, and from there, everything just took off. It was indescribable, just surreal.”
Since her initial diagnosis and ensuing treatments, Berkley’s leukemia quickly went into remission, but she’s facing a long road to recovery, including two years or more of chemotherapy treatments.
Through this journey, Ronette said the community support has been overwhelming. She and her husband, Jeramy, own the Idle Hour Restaurant in Spring Lake, and their customers continually ask how Berkley’s doing.
That community support continues this weekend.
Friday night, the Samdals will be at Buccaneer Stadium for the Bucs’ Pride football game. Berkley’s dad, Jeramy, is a 1994 graduate of Grand Haven High School who played football.
Current Buccaneer L.J. Sandoval will wear Berkley’s name on the back of his jersey.
“We don’t know him,” Ronette said, but the family is excited to have Berkley’s name included in the festivities.
This is the second time Berkley will be involved in a special event at a Grand Haven football game. She conducted the coin toss before the Bucs’ season opener two weeks ago.
Mike Rose, a local businessman who was at GHHS the same time as Jeramy, knows what the Samdals are going through. His daughter, Teagan, recently wrapped up treatment for a similar form of leukemia.
Rose bid on the opening coin toss and gifted the experience to the Samdals.
“Mike and Teagan did it last year, then he bid on it this year and passed it on to my husband and my girls,” Ronette said. “It was really neat.”
Getting to meet others who have experienced a similar journey has been a blessing, Ronette said. Teagan was at the children’s hospital receiving treatment when the Samdals received their diagnosis.
“We’ve had so much support from them,” Ronette said. “Anytime we’re up there for treatment, I’m texting Angela (Rose). She’s helped us through the whole thing. Also, the VanderMolens’ son, Tommy, went through it, as well, probably over a year now. He’s been done with his treatments, but they’ve been to visit.
“It’s really crazy what these kids have gone through, so close in age,” she added. “It’s been really nice to have people who know where we’re coming from.”
On Saturday, a fundraiser will be held for the Samdal family at Hope Church, 14932 Mercury Drive, Grand Haven Township. The event includes a spaghetti dinner, bake sale, raffle and blood drive. The blood drive runs from 3-7 p.m., with dinner from 5-8 p.m. The cost is $10 per person at the door, or money can be sent to the Samdals’ PayPal account at email@example.com.
All proceeds will go directly to the cost of medical bills, gas to and from Grand Rapids for treatment, medications, and related expenses.
You can follow Berkley’s journey at “Fight Like Berks” on Facebook.