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Neighbors surprise family dealing with cancer with backyard makeover

While an Arizona couple was away from home tending to their son during his cancer treatment, neighbors got to work upgrading the couple's property.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

When Brett and Alicia Raskey received the devastating news that their 6-year-old son, Colin, had a malignant brain tumor, they put their life on hold to stay with him night and day.

“It was 53 straight days in the hospital,” Brett Raskey told TODAY. “Me and my wife, we were there every night. We didn’t leave his side.”

When the couple did make a quick trip from Phoenix Children’s Hospital back to their home in Surprise, Arizona, late last month, they were moved to joyful tears by what was waiting for them: a surprise makeover of their property that was done free of charge.

Neighbors, businesses spruce up family's property as they deal with cancer diagnosis
A highlight of the volunteer project to spruce up the property of Brett and Alicia Raskey is this new fire pit and custom barbecue island that was built for them on April 29 while they were caring for their son in the hospital as he was treated for a brain tumor. Courtesy of Davis Margau

Knowing how much the family likes to barbecue and entertain by their pool, a neighbor spearheaded a volunteer effort to build the Raskeys the barbecue island and fire pit they had always wanted so that they would have an awesome place to relax and enjoy family life again after Colin came home on May 5.

Raskey family

“We were blown away,” Brett Raskey said. “We broke down into tears — all the support and love people have shown. The moment was unbelievable.”

The project, which also included sprucing up the front and backyards with landscaping and maintenance work, looked amazing, he said. The couple, who also have a 10-year-old son, Tyler, are beyond thankful.

Craftsmen, neighbors spruce up family's home while they tend to their son in the hospital with cancer
The view from the front: Volunteers donated materials and labor to spruce up the Raskeys' home in the front and backyards.Courtesy of Davis Margau

“We were touched to the deepest level,” Raskey said. “You feel so grateful and humbled knowing we have that support, and friends and family around us to help us through this tough time.”

The idea for the makeover began with Davis Margau, who lives across the street from the Raskeys and is also raising money for them. He wanted to lift the family’s spirits by letting them get back to doing what they love and make happy family memories in an upgraded fashion.

“I knew what they were going through and I knew how much this would mean to them,” Margau said. “And I knew that they weren’t going to be able to afford it because of all the expenses they had from this cancer treatment. I wanted to surprise them with this so their backyard dreams can still come true.”

He contacted David Bell of Advant-Edge Decorative Curbing and Landscaping to see if he could help. Bell and 12 businesses donated materials and labor, and neighbors pitched in as well, Margau said. On April 29, about 40 to 50 tradesmen and neighbors gathered at the Raskey home at about 6 a.m. and worked late into the night to complete the project in a single day.

In an area that once stood empty, they built a grey brick island featuring a grill with LED lights and the fire pit. They hauled away dead trees, planted shrubs, redid a wall in the front of the house and repaired a few things Raskey just hadn’t gotten to.

“They really went all out,” Raskey said. “It looks beautiful now.”

Craftsmen, neighbors spruce up family's property while they tend to son with cancerous brain tumor
Hard at work: Volunteers spruced up the Raskeys' yard and built their dream barbecue island and fire pit in a day.Courtesy of Davis Margau

The Raskeys had been camped out in the hospital since March 14, when doctors confirmed that Colin had a medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor that was the size of a fist. It was removed during two surgeries that spanned about 15 hours, Raskey said.

Thankfully, the cancer had not spread. But Colin developed posterior fossa syndrome, for which he is undergoing extensive therapies to relearn basic skills like talking and walking.

To fight the cancer, he’s undergoing six weeks of radiation, and is to begin nine months of chemotherapy in July, his dad said.

Raskey family

Since they’ve returned home, the family has been able to get outside and barbecue a few times, and Colin has floated in the pool on a raft. “We’ve already enjoyed it,” Raskey said.

The family, who moved into their home in October 2015, doesn’t go out much; entertaining and hanging out at home really is their thing. The work done last month made their backyard complete.

“We’ve always wanted to make our home like our paradise,” Raskey said. “Now it is our paradise.”

Craftsmen, neighbors pitch in to spruce up family's property while they're at the hospital with their son
There's no place like home, especially now with an upgraded front and backyard.Courtesy of Davis Margau

The Raskeys weren’t the only ones to shed a tear during the April 30 unveiling. Margau and other volunteers got choked up as well.

“It was a little hard not to,” Margau said, “seeing how much joy it brought them in the midst of all this pain.”

RELATED contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.