ROBERTSDALE, (WKRG) — A seven-year-old boy in Robertsdale finishes the fight of his life and now celebrates with a new dog. Cullen McKinney recently completed cancer treatment, three years after a life-changing diagnosis. We were there Sunday when he met his new dog Maverick for the first time.
He’s a boy of few words with a story more harrowing than people five times his age. It started in 2019 when he was diagnosed with Leukemia. Fans of the Courage for Cullen Facebook page saw a milestone streamed live. He rang a bell marking the end of his cancer treatment just weeks ago. Now it’s time to get back home. He gets to play with his new dog, and more than that, finally live like a typical child.
“I feel like this is the first step to enjoying new things and enjoying life to the fullest,” said Cullen’s mother Jessica McKinney. Cancer is a life-changing experience and they hope this little dog can help Cullen live more like a kid again.
“I think he’s already learned that life is short and there are consequences and there are things that can happen at an early age that he shouldn’t have had to learn yet, he knows life’s precious and he feels a little different than other kids because of that,” said Cullen’s mother. Lauren Henson is a social worker who helped connect them with a breeder who wanted to donate a dog to a family that’s been through a lot–a dog helps heal trauma.
“They are so intuitive to what a child is feeling and they’re able to pick up on those emotions we might not be able to have the capacity to say it out loud,” said Henson. The dog comes from a local breeder, Double J Doodle Farm, who says she’s glad they could bring some happiness with them.
“It’s been emotional, hearing Cullen’s story and seeing how hard he’s fought to get where he is now,” said Jessica Jordan. We checked in with the family this week. Cullen’s father says the dog is settling in well and, in his words “brings more smiles to Cullen’s face than I have seen in a while.”
A cancer diagnosis affects not just the patient but an entire community. Social worker Lauren Henson wrote more about the resources available when a family faces pediatric cancer:
I am grateful to the testament of the importance of grace, community and human connection. To have an inclination of an idea of what these children and families endure on their pediatric journey promotes advocacy, awareness, and empathy.
We have so many local supports and resources right here in our community who support our families. Please consider supporting these local resources who assist our families, raise awareness, fund research, provide emotional support respite and help release financial burdens to alleviate additional worries.
The team at USA CW becomes family day 1. Their hearts outpour day in and day out to serve, reassure, and get through the darkest of moments a parent and a child could have never fathom they would be the “1 out of 285”. I have witnessed firsthand the physicians, the nurses, the child life team, the therapists, the evs team, the clerks, and the residents serve with continued compassion. Their calling in the field is evident.