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Groton - Sometimes, Racheal Martin wakes up in the middle of the night and has to check her son and watch him breathe before she can go back to sleep.
Martin's son, Robert Martin, 7, was diagnosed with leukemia last August and weighs 45 pounds. He started treatment almost immediately after his diagnosis and has 17 to 20 months left of chemotherapy.
She and her husband, Samuel Martin, who serves on the USS Providence, had to send their daughters to live with family in Wyoming because he had to work and she had to stay with Robert in the hospital. They haven't been all together since Christmas.
"People don't realize the devastation that happens to a family," Racheal Martin said.
Robert Faherty, a retired Boston Police superintendent-in-chief and board chairman of the charity Cops for Kids with Cancer, said he does get it. That's why the volunteer organization donates $5,000 to families facing childhood cancer, he said; it's got to be enough to really help. Faherty will give the Martins a $5,000 check at 1 p.m. today at the Connecticut State Police barracks in Montville.
"Every family is different and they go through terrible, terrible times that people don't understand," Faherty said.
Connecticut State Police Sgt. Christopher High, who is on active duty for the military and is a family friend, nominated the Martins.
The charity deliberately doesn't put restrictions on the money, Faherty said.
"They know what they need it for," he said. "A lot of people are losing their house, they can't pay their mortgage, they can't pay their rent. Or they're making car payments, or they're making insurance things. Everybody's got different problems."
The charity has helped 280 families since 2008, according to its website.
Racheal Martin spends $100 a month in gas to take her son back and forth to Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence. They may drive to the pediatric oncology clinic three times a week. She pays $50 a month in co-pays for medicine. And sometimes, she gives in and gets Robert things she normally wouldn't.
"You find that you want to comfort your child in any way possible," she said, then struggled to finish the sentence. "Because what if there is no tomorrow?"
The doctors started chemotherapy almost immediately after Robert was diagnosed. Robert's sisters, ages 8 and 10, had to be sent to stay with family about two weeks later because their mother was in the hospital and they were distraught. The girls both cried and Kylie, 8, asked if her brother was going to die, Racheal Martin said.
"I had to tell her I didn't know," she said. She and her husband told the children that hopefully everything would be all right.
Racheal Martin said she was finishing up a degree to become a dental assistant at the time. Her classes were done and she had about six weeks of an externship left. She took a six-month leave first, then withdrew from the program.
Robert has "minimal residual disease," or small numbers of cancerous cells that remain after treatment, so he needs double the chemo for twice as long. Martin said he doesn't ask why he needs the medicine, just why he got sick.
She tells him, "it just happens."
The family has had some help. Samuel Martin's crewmates on the USS Providence took up a collection when Robert first got sick, and that helped get them through in the beginning.
But the expenses continued even after the money was gone. Robert's sisters come home in June, and their mother worries about having enough money for food and clothes. They'll have to go with her when she brings Robert to his medical appointments.
Racheal Martin already has plans for the $5,000. She's going to put some in savings to use for gas to and from the hospital and for medicine, and she's going to spend some on a family outing this summer; maybe to Vermont. She wants them to have something together, after all they've been through.
Sometimes, she said people try to reassure her and instead end up minimizing how hard it is, Martin said. One woman told her leukemia is highly curable - she's knows a boy who survived and she shouldn't worry about it.
"Yeah, he survived," Martin said. "But do you know what the parents went through? Do you know what the child went through? Just because it's curable doesn't mean that the chemo won't kill him. It can, and that's the truth of it."
To donate to Cops for Kids with Cancer, visit copsforkidswithcancer.org/supporting-cfkwc/give-securely-online.
You can also mail Cops For Kids With Cancer, P.O. Box 850956, Braintree, MA, 02185.