A curtain with muted geometric patterns separates London Solomon from her roommate at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, but she and her mother are in a separate world.
The two recline on London’s small hospital bed, heads bent together, engrossed in the children’s book "Go, Dog. Go!’’
London, 6, shares her mother’s large dark eyes and slightly rounded nose. Although London no longer has her mother’s hair — she lost hers to chemotherapy — Heather Solomon, 38, never stops stroking her daughter’s head.
"I knew we were OK when about a week or two after diagnosis, she told me ‘I’m not sick; just my blood is,’ ’’ Heather Solomon said.
London was diagnosed in May with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive cancer that requires more strenuous treatments than other types of leukemia. London is in the hospital for her third round of chemotherapy. Although she is in remission, she must go through two more monthlong rounds. Each 10-day cycle is followed by several days of isolation to make sure London’s immune system is strong enough for a weeklong break at home.
Heather is proud of her daughter’s resiliency and optimism. She’s also proud of her four sons waiting at home.
"I’ve moved in here with her, and so they’re all left at home to pick up the pieces without mom. They’re learning a lot,’’ she said.
For her oldest son, Preston Solomon, 16, the learning deepened when he visited London. He decided to raise money for toys and games for London and the other children in the hospital.
Preston and his family started the drive with a kickoff party for their neighborhood near Queen Creek. Fliers, e-mails, word of mouth, neighbors and fellow church members have helped the effort grow far beyond what he imagined.
The drive raised more than $8,000 in cash and gift cards, as well as hundreds of videos and DVDs.
"It really does make a difference for kids that are here months at a time,’’ Heather said.
She said her son’s efforts dovetail perfectly with the philosophy at Phoenix Children’s Hospital — let kids be kids. The idea is evident throughout the hospital. Interactive desert-scene artwork adorns the hallways. The rooms are brightly decorated and carefully designed to "not be scary,’’ per advice from the children. Even the elevators boast vivid orange and purple checked carpeting.
Preston has stopped taking donations, but is thrilled by the response to his drive. He is now focusing on classes, athletics and working toward Eagle Scout status, in addition to pitching in around the house during his mother’s absence.
"We’re all doing good,’’ he said of himself and his younger brothers. "We’re having to grow up and do our own stuff.’’
He may brush it off, but London is proud of her brother.
"He was on the radio this morning,’’ she announced with a toothy grin from her mother’s lap. Preston spoke Sept. 8 on the fifth annual KMLE Country 108 Miracle Marathon for Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
London snuggles into her pillows to watch "Lilo and Stitch,’’ and briefs her mother on the show. She pulls to her chin a blanket adorned with messages that read "You are an angel’’ and "You are loved.’’
Heather treasures the bond between Preston and London, the outpouring of community support and the tokens of love that surround her daughter — and trusts them to keep her daughter and her family strong.
How to help
Donations for patients are always accepted through the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation. The hospital asks that donations of dolls, toys and clothes be new. Information: (602) 546-4483.