Aaron Graham, a 30-year-old cancer patient, recently had a chance to give back to the people who had helped him through some of the most difficult times that he faced.
Graham was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that originates in the white blood cells called lymphocytes, in August 2010.
"It's been difficult, but I've dealt with it and tried to be positive about the situation the entire time," said Graham. "It wasn't easy at all, though. I was 27 years old. When I thought of cancer, I thought of older people and young kids, so when I was almost 30, I didn't think it was something that I would have to worry about. I never thought it was going to be me."
Before and after images of the Graham family’s home are shown above. Aaron Graham, a 30-year-old cancer patient, wrote a letter to HGTV, expressing how even though he didn’t live at home during his treatment, he wanted to do something to repay his family because of the difficult times that they helped him through. The TV show “Cousins On Call” then led the one-week transformation of the Jamestown home.
Aaron's mother, Rachel, who works as a nurse in the intensive care unit, said that despite dealing with difficult situations on a daily basis, it was extremely difficult for her to find out that her son was diagnosed with cancer.
"Through this whole process, I am a mother first and a nurse second," said Rachel. "So much of this has been a one day at a time thing.
When Graham was first diagnosed, he began chemotherapy. For six months he had to travel to Buffalo every two weeks for the treatment, which was an all-day ordeal. In February 2011, however, Graham was told that he was cancer-free for the first time since his diagnosis. He began having regular check-ups every three months after that.
"All of my scans were clean at that time," said Graham. "Then, I noticed that in the same spot as a before, a lump started coming back. We immediately went to have it checked out."
Doctors examined Graham, then set up an appointment for a biopsy to confirm if the lump was cancerous. When the results came back in December 2011, it was confirmed that the cancer had returned. Once the family found out that the cancer had returned, Aaron had to go back to Buffalo for more chemotherapy, and in spring of 2012, he had a stem cell transplant, which was unsuccessful.
During a portion of his time in Buffalo, Graham stayed at the Hope Lodge, which is provided free of charge by the American Cancer Society to patients who are receiving treatment.
The lodge removes the extra burden of travel, lodging and food expenses from families that are already dealing with a difficult situation.
In September 2012, an employee from the Hope Lodge called and told Graham that the American Cancer Society was teaming up with the television show "Cousins on Call" and HGTV. Graham wrote a letter to them, expressing how even though he didn't live at home during his treatment, he wanted to do something to repay his family because of the difficult times that they helped him through.
"They spent every penny they had," said Graham. "My mom used all of her vacation time at work. It wasn't easy on the family. I have a 3-year-old daughter, and I'm supposed to have her on certain days, so my family had to take her. My brother and sister both had to step up and take over responsibilities that I had when I was at home. I'll never be able to repay any of them, but this opportunity was the closest that I could get."
The Graham family received a call in mid-October from HGTV, saying that representatives from the show were going to come talk to the family to see how things were going.
"We were all waiting at the house and when I looked out of the window, here came a television truck, a truck bringing in a dumpster, work crews, cars, a U-Haul, everything," said Rachel. "We went out on the porch and John (Colaneri) and Anthony (Carrino) were there from the 'Cousins on Call,' and they told us that they were really touched by the letter that Aaron wrote and they wanted to transform the house for us."
The Graham family left their house for one week so that the construction crews could do the necessary work on their home. During that time, Andrew Carlson, who runs Wing City Grille, invited the television crew, construction crew, and everyone who was working on the project out to the restaurant one night, and during the build, even brought food to the workers at the house.
"When we went back for the reveal, I couldn't believe it," said Rachel. "I was so blown away. They basically rebuilt the entire outside of the house. When they took the roof off of the house and took the siding off, they found that the framing all the way around the house was rotten. They put in new insulation, new siding, new gutters, a deck, everything. It's absolutely beautiful. I'm thankful every single day. I'm so humbled that this happened for us."
After finishing the project at the Grahams' home, the show contacted Aaron Graham to find out if there was anything that the Hope Lodge needed as well. According to Graham, one of the biggest improvements that the lodge was lacking was an outdoor area for patients and their families to use for relaxation.
"The Hope Lodge is really nice already, so the only thing that I could think of that they needed was someplace for the patients to go and relax outside on the property," said Graham. "We had to wear masks to protect us if we went anywhere off of the property at Hope Lodge, but the only thing that was on the property was a parking lot, a strip of grass and a line of trees."
The construction crews eventually built a large, brick patio on the property, complete with chairs, chess tables, wooden swings and a Zen garden. There is also a fire pit and a place for patients to go and plant flowers.
"It's finally a place that people can relax," said Graham. "It's not just for the patients, either, it's for their families. When you're someplace like that, it can be overwhelming, so the area that 'Cousins on Call' built is somewhere that you can go to escape from everything for a little while."
Since the episode, which originally aired on the 100th anniversary of the American Cancer Society, was filmed, Graham and his family have found out that the cancer has returned. Graham will be going back to Buffalo, this time for a bone marrow transplant from a donor. According to his mother, he will begin the treatment around the beginning of August, spend another month in the hospital post-treatment, and then have to spend some time in Buffalo after that, as well.
"They could have everything back if it meant that Aaron could be cancer free," said Rachel. "It's been an emotional journey for everyone."