One can never really know what it’s like to have a child undergoing treatment for cancer until it happens to you or a family member.
Two Greater Victoria families have become strong advocates for people in that boat, helping provide the supports needed in families’ day-to-day struggles with the realities that come with a childhood cancer diagnosis and treatment.
P.J. Fairfield-Carter, whose son Cole, now 11, is on the upswing after enduring treatment for medulablastoma – a form of brain cancer – knows well the rigors of this journey.
That’s why she joined fellow ‘cancer mom’ Susan Kerr in forming the Island Kids Cancer Association last December, to help make life more bearable for families in crisis.
“I won’t lie, there was a part of me that was like … in a way I don’t want to do this because then you’re always thinking about (childhood cancer),” Fairfield-Carter said, recalling her decision.
“But at the same time, you know it’s making an impact and its something you can do to help.”
The Saanich resident and her husband, Brian, were on hand at the Saunders Family Foundation charity golf tournament last week at the Cowichan Golf Club.
The former Colwood car dealership clan presented the association with a $1,000 cheque, one of various cash gifts presented to community groups on the night.
In combination with the Kids Run fundraiser that happened Sunday at Tillicum Centre, the influx of cash pushed the cancer support group a little closer to its 2017 fundraising goal of $115,000.
That’s how much organizers estimate it will take to fully fund the program, from coffee cards and bowling outings to those grocery cards perfect for families staying for weeks or months in Vancouver while their child is cared for at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Not only that, the group is providing increased access to bereavement and other counselling for parents, a critical support for families whose worlds have been turned upside down.
While the grand gestures such as a big family trip are nice if they materialize, Fairfield-Carter said, helping families address the ongoing life challenges is what this organization is all about.
“It’s just getting through that day to day, whether it’s emotional support or just practical, personal support, and I think that’s what really matters to people when you’re really in it,” she said.
The advocacy of people who have been through the experience is invaluable for families taking the journey for the first time, Brian said.
“You spend all of your time going, ‘OK, what do I do next …’ Part of it is you’re in shock and your brain isn’t really functioning, so just figuring out the simplest things … having someone say, ‘this is what you need to do, these are the forms you need to fill out (is invaluable),” he said, recalling his need to apply for EI benefits while he was off work caring for their older son.
Cancer treatment affects the whole family, he added, and gaining a sense of normalcy is sometimes the hardest thing to achieve.
Things like celebrating the birthday of a healthy sibling during that time, or having a special meal for Thanksgiving can be tricky to navigate, he said.
“I was thinking in retrospect how shocking it must be for kids at that age to see their parents struggling.”
Dave Saunders, who worked with Kerr on the dealership’s Comfy Kids program, which supplies a Subaru vehicle for families with a child undergoing treatment that need transportation, was thrilled the foundation was able to help.
“These families and these kids, they fight, and if we can give them just a little bit of support, that’s what we’re here to do,” he said.
In his years working with area families, he’s learned of the often monumental financial struggles they face, with one or both parents needing to take time off work. That’s why the work of organizations like the Island Kids Cancer Association are so important, he added.
P.J. Fairfield-Carter appreciates the relationship Saunders has with the group. “He’s the one who helped us to think, ‘you can do this,’ and gave us encouragement,” she said, “but also helped us realize there is community support out there, that there’s connections and other people who do care.”
Programs initiated by the association include physical literacy, family bowling sessions in Langford, 4Cats Arts days and the Angel Network Support Group for bereaved parents.
To find out more about the association, email Fairfield-Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org