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A Farmhouse for Kids with Cancer

A Farmhouse for Kids with Cancer

Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse exterior where kids with cancer can stay with their families

There are stories of hardship, loss and hope that leave you speechless, and this is one of them. On June 30, 2020, Jen and Shane Bridges lost their two-year-old son Julian to cancer. They had just finished renovating their farmhouse so Julian could grow up as a farm kid, but now they had a farm with no kid. So instead, they turned their farmhouse into a getaway destination for other families that have kids with cancer.

Bridgers who lost their son to cancer

Becoming a Family with a Son in Treatment

"Julian was a surprise baby," Jen says. "I was traveling to Ethiopia for our ministry, but we just said that we were going to make the best of it, and of course we fell in love with him." Jen is the founder of Embrace Compassion, a non-profit organization that supports children in Ethiopia, allowing them to stay in school and providing pediatric medical supplies.

Bridger son Julian died of cancer
Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse master bedroom
The finished primary bedroom in the Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse.

"Julian made two trips with me to Ethiopia," Jen says. "The second was at 20 months, and he wasn’t recovering well from the trip. We took him in to the pediatrician, and were finally referred to the children's hospital." Julian was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer at 21 months old. The Bridges had joined the club you hope you're never part of—families that have kids with cancer.

Brigdes 1920 farmhouse pre-renovation
"The original part of the structure is 100 years old (from 1920)," Jen says.

Farmhouse to Fix

At the same time, there was the farmhouse. "We’d just taken possession of the farmhouse in June, and Julian was diagnosed in October," Jen says. They were planning a full renovation for the 100-year-old structure, which was a tiny, 1,000-square-foot farmhouse on 2.5 acres of land outside Portland, Oregon. "We had originally thought, why not just keep this land and enjoy this little bitty farmhouse and let Julian enjoy the farm life?" They hadn't known that only months later, the diagnosis would upend their lives.

Bridges farmhouse renovation with Julian in 2019
Julian got to see the renovation of the farmhouse unfold in 2019.
Bridges farmhouse renovation
During the renovation, the Bridges uncovered a second roof inside the structure. "Around 1970 someone built a roof and a ‘70s looking kitchen, so when we demoed it had two roofs, the one from the '70s was inside," Jen says.

"The current structure was so bad," Jen says. "It usually takes us 90 days to do the whole demo and renovation, but it took us 90 days just to demo. Julian was in the hospital for 53 of the first 60 days. So all of a sudden, we were in the hospital with a super sick kid, the farmhouse torn up and we were living out of a travel trailer."

Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse kitchen
The finished kitchen in the Pearl Street Farmhouse.
Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse kitchen

"We didn’t finish the farmhouse until December of 2019," Jen says. "We got in three days before Christmas so Julian could have one Christmas with us at the farm." Meanwhile, they were enduring a brutal 8-month battle as a family with kids with cancer. "It’s like torturing your child," Jen says. After 8 months, Julian passed away on June 30, 2020.

Bridger son Julian riding a tractor

Choosing Purpose

The whole reason the Bridges had moved to, and renovated, the farm, was to provide Julian with a farm style childhood. "Then Julian died, and here we had this beautiful little farm and animals, and how can you just walk away from that?" Jen says.

Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse living room
The living room in the Bridges' farmhouse.
Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse bathroom

The answer was to combine her passion for Embrace Compassion with her story of kids with cancer and child loss. "I went to the board of Embrace Compassion and asked to add on to our ministry," Jen says. "We help kids in hard places in Ethiopia, and these are also kids in hard places here."

Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse desk
Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse where kids with cancer can stay with their families

The farm, called Pearl Street Urban Farm, has become a weekend destination for families that have kids with cancer. "When you’re in treatment, it’s like Covid but it doesn’t go away," Jen says. "You can’t go to a regular farm because it’s not safe, but this one is because we’re aware. The families come visit for an hour and a half on Saturdays. Kids in treatment get tired really fast, so that’s all they can handle."

Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse porch

Enjoying Normal Life for Kids with Cancer

The farm has become a place for kids with cancer, their parents and their siblings, to enjoy normal life for a little while. "Julian loved everything farm and outdoors, and we wanted to share that," Jen says. "For whatever is safe for [the kids with cancer] to do, they’re allowed to do. We’ll show them how to pick up the chicken eggs, check on the goats, take the pigs on a walk on a leash, whatever it is they can do."

They planted a community garden for the families and volunteers, and the families can participate in helping to grow and harvest the food. "They get a Brighter Box, and get hand-picked items they can take home with them. A highlight for most of the kids is Julian’s playground. We have a big bubble machine we pull out."

Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse porch

Giving Back in Grief

For Jen, sharing her farm has been part of the healing process. "I really believe that finding purpose is a big part of working through grief," she says. "When we first lost Julian, I volunteered at a soup kitchen. For me, to continue to show kindness and choosing purpose is part of the process. It doesn’t make sense that kids die and get sick, so being able to trust God and know that he’s in the journey with us is comforting."

Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse dining room

"The word 'and' is my favorite because I believe that life is filled with hard stuff, AND, at the same time, there’s beauty and hope and encouragement. They’re not exclusive, we can embrace that hope for the future. The farmhouse is an AND, allowing those two to coexist at the same time."

Pearl Street Urban Farmhouse is a farm with chickens

Bringing hope and fun to other families who have kids with cancer has allowed Jen and Shane to give back. "A lot of these kids are going to die, so the farm is a safe place for the kids to not feel alone and the families to be welcome," she says. "For us, after Julian died, we left the hospital. But at the farm, if a child dies, those families are always welcome."

For more about Jen and this amazing ministry, visit Embrace Compassion, or follow them on Instagram or Facebook.

For another inspiring story of beauty in the midst of grief, read Janice Morrow's story here. Of course, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest to get your daily dose of farmhouse inspiration!

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