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Friends pitch in to create dream backyard for boy dying of cancer

As a family deals with the imminent death of their cancer-stricken son, friends donate money and time to give a dream backyard makeover.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

In school, Joe Hermanson bonded with classmate Bryan Carroll over Legos and “Star Wars,” the stuff loads of 7-year-old boys enjoy. When Bryan was diagnosed with leukemia last year, Joe would visit his friend in the hospital and their families became friends.

“Bryan brings out the best of Joe. I have a pretty outgoing, loud, hyper kid, very ambitious … and Bryan is a little more reserved. I always know that Joe is in good hands [with Bryan],” Leanne Christie says.

While everyone felt relieved last year when Bryan was in remission, this spring the cancer had returned with a vengeance. A month ago, his family brought him home from the hospital and is helping Bryan enjoy the rest of his life. The 7-year-old boy does not know he is dying.

“It’s extremely sad. We refuse to be sad in front of Bryan,” says dad Sean Carroll. “I want Bryan’s life, what’s left, to be happy.”

The 'before' picture of the Carroll's backyard.

During a recent playdate between their boys, Carroll mentioned to Christie that he wished he could tend to his treestump-filled yard, but he didn’t want to miss any time with Bryan.

The wish inspired Christie to give something back to the Carroll family. And with the help of friends and stranger a backyard makeover became a reality.

The backyard makeover included new furniture, a swing, and a fire pit.Sean Carroll

“I wanted to do something,” Christie says. “It gave me a focus and somewhere to put that pain … it just seemed right.”

She posted a message on Facebook and thought she would be lucky if she received a few donations and five friends to volunteer to help. But she received so much more. Her Go Fund Me campaign raised $3,000 in four days. At least 50 people, many who did not know Bryan, volunteered to work as landscapers at the family’s house in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; they used dirt and sod to level the backyard before installing outdoor furniture and a swing set. The volunteers scurried to complete all the work on July 29 when Bryan was on a train trip with his family from Halifax to Toronto.

“They are just gentle kind good people and I have loved all the times that [we’ve] had to spend together,” says Christie. “I would do anything for them.”

When the family returned from the trip, the excitement felt palpable.

“Bryan was very excited and jumping up and down,” says Carroll.

During the backyard makeover reveal, Bryan, 7, and his sister Abbey, 10, got a surprise visit from NHL Hockey stars Sydney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon.Carroll Family

It also helped that NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon visited and played with Bryan and all his friends for more than an hour. Bryan’s parents knew about this surprise because they worked with the local Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada for the meeting.

While Carroll and his wife, Marsha Stephens, feel grateful they can spend every night in the yard enjoying time with Bryan and 10-year-old daughter Abby, they also feel lucky that so many people care and support them.

“For us, the sense of not feeling alone … is great and overwhelming,” Carroll says. “The community support is awesome. It’s allowing us—that’s the biggest thing of all—to be completely focused on Bryan.”