Matthew Durda was born on October 15, 1983, in Grande Prairie, Alberta, to parents Greg and Val, along with his sister Megan. Happy and healthy, he thrived under the love and attention of his big sister. His father laughingly remembers that as parents, they were very relieved that Matthew had not inherited any of his sister’s colic. Family life was full and enjoyable.
As Matthew grew and developed, so did his love for the outdoors and his world. He was intelligent and eager to learn. He asked many questions and needed explanations for his world. He showed concern for other kids, and seemed to touch the hearts of everyone he came in contact with. He and Megan grew very close. They shared bonds of innate gentleness and kindness.
Matthew loved all things WWF. He had many figurines and would play with them for hours on end. They were his superheroes. Matthew acquired a passion for grilled cheese sandwiches dipped in syrup from his grandfather. He also loved chocolate covered doughnuts, but his favourite food was McDonald’s® cheeseburgers.
On September 9, 1987, Matthew and Megan were at a neighbor’s house having fun, taking pictures and playing. Their parents were meeting with the doctor. Matthew had a lump and had gone for some tests. It was diagnosis day.
Matthew had cancer. Two days later Val and Matthew were airlifted to Stollery Children’s Hospital. Greg drove down to join them, while Megan stayed with her grandparents. Megan recalls feeling very loved and cared. She also knew her brother was very sick.
Val found solace in Ronald McDonald House Charities® Northern Alberta (RMHCNA) in Edmonton while Matthew was receiving treatment. It became a home away from home where Val could find comfort, rest and community. It also became a place where Megan could visit. Matthew was in and out of hospital and RMHCNA was where they could play together and be kids.
Megan lovingly remembers the House playroom with more toys than she could ever play with. She remembers the basement outfitted with arcade games, feeling special to be invited to hang out with the older kids. “It was a fun place to be. You could forget that you had a sick brother. It was just normal.”
Matthew’s journey held many rounds of chemo and extensive radiation therapy. His tubes and IVs were a part of his world, but were scary for Megan to see at first. Matthew seemed to accept them very readily. Even still, he loved school and learning. His sickness never stopped him from doing the things he loved to do.
In the spring of 1990, Matthew was in remission. The family celebrated by engaging in lots of normal family activities: the fished, camped, built a playhouse and enjoyed time together making memories.
But the fall of 1990 brought a relapse and the realizations of the family’s worst fears. There was nothing more that could be done for Matthew. Megan felt a sense of panic, mirrored by her loved ones.
Loved ones rallied around the Durdas. The RMHCNA families and staff were steadfast in their support and care. Megan was with Matthew when he passed on January 8, 1991. Matthew’s family held him close as they said their goodbyes.
The family arrived back to RMHCNA in the middle of the night after saying their farewells. Families and House Managers were waiting up for them, ready to give comfort and support. Megan lay with her head in her mom’s lap as the conversation mixed with silence swirled around her. She felt the comfort. And she was peaceful in the knowledge that her parents were receiving comfort as well.
Megan is now grown, with a daughter of her own. Alexandra shares her Uncle Matthew’s thirst for knowledge and his curiosity. Megan now works for the House and is part of the RMHCNA Development Team in Grande Prairie.