Local mom, Samantha Ferguson, understands well the intensity of diagnosis and treatment of childhood leukemia. In 2016, at the age of seven, her son Kai was diagnosed. Two and a half years later in the fifth stage of treatment, Kai still takes oral chemotherapy daily, special antibiotics on weekends, monthly visits out-of-town for intravenous chemotherapy and quarterly trips to BC Children’s Hospital for painful chemotherapy injections.
Kai’s medical journey has been a long one and is not over. YANA has been with his family from the beginning.
“From the moment we left by helicopter from Comox to Children’s and I was handed a YANA envelope,” explains Ferguson, “We barely understood what was happening and just how much support we would need from our community.”
Lifetime Union Bay resident Joanne Tarnowski knew she was very ill when she came into the YANA office in 2016, around the time of Kai’s diagnosis, to discuss ways she could contribute. While Joanne wasn’t aware of Kai’s family sharing such a similar path to her own, she knew the challenges of being away from home with a sick child and wanted to do something significant for her community.
“My husband and I lived in Union Bay all our lives,” explained Joanne. “We married in 1958, in 1965 we bought an oyster business and started working it together.” Joanne described those early years as a lot of hard work but nothing compared to the challenge that came when her daughter got sick at two years of age.
“When Janet got sick everything happened so quickly. We went from hospital emergency here, to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.”
Janet’s illness would culminate in a long hospital stay and an operation.
“At that time we didn’t have much money or help,” states Joanne. “There was no YANA then. It was a scary time and a lonely time.”
Janet recovered and eventually thrived and started her own family. In 1995, Janet and her husband, Bruce, welcomed their son, Dallas. When Dallas was six he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“We were floored,” Janet remembers. “The helplessness, the anxiety, it’s like time stopped. In that moment I understood what my own mother had gone through.”
Janet and Bruce began the heart wrenching journey of caring for their child through his intense treatment, experiencing much of the same stress that Kai’s parents face.
“In the beginning we made a promise; we would tell Dallas every day how much he was loved; he would never be left alone,” says Janet. They juggled work, care of their youngest son, and took shifts at the hospital. “We kept our promise,” says Janet.
In 2004, Dallas finished treatment and is now a healthy young man who understands the importance of giving.
“Looking back, I don’t remember the fear or the sadness. I remember my family, being together, feeling loved and secure,” says Dallas. “We were lucky to have that, our family wants that for others.”
Donor Joanne Tarnowski born October 14, 1939 passed away March 2, 2018. Joanne and her family created an annual legacy gift to YANA with the commitment of keeping Comox Valley families, like Kai’s, together during medical treatment away from home.
Reflecting on her past, Joanne said, “You are not alone. Those words mean a lot to me. I love YANA. I always have.”
To find out more about supporting YANA through monthly, annual, or legacy gifts visit https://www.yanacomoxvalley.com/donate/