Globe Gazette: Rockwell brain cancer patient, four daughters get bedroom makeovers

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ROCKWELL | Thursday evening, with numerous family members and My Happy Haven members at her side, Katie Blackdeer was rewarded for her ongoing fight against cancer.

That's because Blackdeer, her husband Cody, and their four kids received makeovers for their two bedrooms at their rural Rockwell home, courtesy of My Happy Haven, and several of its corporate sponsors in North Iowa. 

Blackdeer's kids were surprised to see two bunk beds in their room when they arrived home Thursday night, while Katie's room's featured new furniture, including a headboard the 30-year-old desperately needed.

Doctors initially found a grade four medulloblastoma tumor on Blackwell's brain in January. In February, she drove herself to the emergency room after feeling extremely sick, along with experiencing headaches and blurred vision.

After that, two surgeries. Thirty rounds of proton beam radiation. Several more rounds of chemotherapy.

But Thursday, after her last round of chemo, she came home to two newly-furnished bedrooms, thanks to My Happy Haven.

Lisa Tan, co-founder of My Happy Haven, said she started the organization with partner Deidra Rattay after hearing about women battling cancer in northern Iowa, and feeling the need to give back.

She added that providing more beds and furnishings for the Blackdeers hopefully makes life a little easier.

"They have this two bedroom house with six people in the family," said Tan, 57. "I couldn't imagine being a young mom, having four kids, and having to go to chemo.

Tan said the Blackdeers are the eighth project My Happy Haven have completed since November, when the nonprofit was founded. She added she and her team work with families from the beginning, getting to know the family's likes and dislikes, and then working with volunteers and sponsors to remodel each room, which is budgeted at about $2,500.

The money may not sound like much, but sponsors and other groups offer items at discounted prices, making each project a reality, she said.

One of the themes of both rooms was using owls to decorate them, whether it be through posters or figurines. Laurie Schweizer, Katie's mom, said they were a favorite of Barbara Williams, Katie's late great-grandmother.

"Maybe to see them is to know she's here," said Schweizer, 54, of their importance. "That we can feel her."

After initially seeing her room, Blackdeer was in tears, overwhelmed at what My Happy Haven had accomplished. She said she didn't know what to expect, but was grateful to the nonprofit and all of its sponsors.

Cody Blackdeer, Katie's husband, said she has been strong since she was diagnosed and continues to fight the disease to this day.

"It's just nice to be a part of a community that cares about you," said Cody, 30, about the new rooms.

My Happy Haven's corporate partners sign up on an annual basis, and are locked in for a minimum of 10 rooms, Tan said. She added that individuals and groups that know the family often pitch in to the project.

Schweizer said the nonprofit is an example to never forget to count on your neighbors.

"I think it's been huge, not realizing that there is somebody that is out there," she said. "And it's real. It's very real."

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