Lifetime Union Bay resident Joanne knows firsthand the challenge of being a young mother, away from home, with a sick child.
“My husband and I have both been in the Comox Valley, Union Bay actually, all our lives,” explains Joanne. “We married in 1958, in 1965 we bought an oyster business and started working it together.”
Joanne’s husband, Joe, had been working since he was 12 and neither of them were strangers to hard work. They were determined to make their business a success.
“We worked side by side,” says Joanne. “Of course it was hard work, but really we had a ball. Being out on the beach at 2am in the wind and the rain, together, these are the things you remember.”
Starting a family came as a natural next step and the couple soon welcomed their first child, Janet.
“When Janet got sick everything happened so quickly. We went from hospital emergency here, to needing to be at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.”
Janet, then two years old, would have a long stay in the hospital and her illness would culminate in the need for an operation.
“It hurt seeing her there,” says Joanne. “I sat by her bedside that first day and didn’t want to leave in case she woke up. But finally I had to get a sandwich from the cafeteria, and when I was gone she woke up. She was so scared.”
In the following weeks Joanne met other parents from around the province with children in the hospital. Soon they developed a plan for trading the needed moments to eat by watching each other’s kids so as not to have to leave them alone.
“In those days they made you leave at 8pm. That was the worst part of it, leaving her, I always tried to get her to sleep before I had to leave,” Joanne continues.
Joanne’s husband stayed behind to look after the family business, travelling to Vancouver on weekends. The couple spoke every night by phone.
“In some ways it may have been harder on him, not being there. If Janet had a hard day he would cry on the phone as we talked about it.”
Joanne remembers the walk from the hospital back to her room every evening.
“At that time we didn’t have much money or much help,” states Joanne. “There was no YANA then. It was a scary time and a lonely time.”
In time Janet recovered from her illness and thrived, and though blessed with a son and a good business in the subsequent years, the family never forgot those early years.
In 1995, Janet, grown and now married to Bruce, had her first son, Dallas. Joanne was thrilled to become a grandmother, and overjoyed again with the birth of the couple’s second son. When Dallas was six years old he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“We were floored,” Janet remembers. “The helplessness, the anxiety, I remember everything about that moment, even what I was wearing. It’s like time stopped and in that moment I understood what my own mother had gone through when I was sick.”
Dallas was admitted to the hospital and Janet and Bruce began the heart wrenching journey of caring for their child through intense treatment and some of the darkest times of their lives.
Of that time Janet says, “In the beginning we made a promise; we would not cry in front of Dallas; we would tell him every day how much he was loved; he would never be left alone.”
If they were overcome by tears they would stand in the hall, if Dallas was scared they would comfort him. They juggled their work lives, the care of their youngest son, and took shifts at the hospital.
“We kept our promise,” says Janet.
In 2004, Dallas finished treatment for leukemia.
Dallas, now a 21-year-old man with a direct and open demeanor sits beside his younger brother and his dad on the couch of their Union Bay summer home. He’s a big guy with an easy smile and the closeness of the family is evident as they listen to him speak.
Dallas has several tattoos, “The first one I ever got was a blood drop with the words ‘never give up’,” he says. This tattoo commemorates his battle with leukemia and echoes a sentiment all generations of the family hold dear.
Dallas, with his family, actively support and are involved in several charitable organizations that benefit children.
“When I look back at that definitive time in my life, I don’t remember the fear or the sadness. I remember my mom, and my dad, being together, and feeling loved and secure. I remember the happy,” continues Dallas. “And I know we were lucky to have that, that’s something our family wants for others.”
Reflecting on her family’s experiences, Joanne states, “You are not alone. Those words mean a lot to me. My challenges now don’t mean anything,” she says. “I love YANA. I always have.”
Joanne’s gift to YANA helps to continue a legacy of giving and the commitment to keeping families together, during medical treatment away from home for Comox Valley children.