For Saanich’s Westhaver family, a trip to Disney World in Florida next year will mark a clean break from three years of all-encompassing stress and worry.
In March 5, 2009, just before Jack Westhaver’s sixth birthday, doctors diagnosed him with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. That day he was on a flight to B.C. Children’s hospital, a place that became his home away from home until last June, when his treatment successfully concluded.
On Tuesday, Westhavers helped kick off the Help Fill a Dream Foundation’s fundraiser in collaboration with the seven Country Grocer stores on Vancouver Island. The foundation is sending the family to Disney World and a Disney cruise next May.
“It’s not a journey we’ve made by choice,”said Mena Westhaver, Jack’s mom. “It’s been a long and bumpy road that affects every aspect of what the family does. What (Help Fill a Dream) is doing is hugely appreciated.”
Jack, now 9, selected the Disney trip, although when initially offered “anything in the world he wanted to do,” he opted to have the Canucks hockey team over for dinner, said Mena laughing. Unfortunately wrangling up professional hockey players wasn’t within the power of Help Fill a Dream.
“It’s surreal for a kid to be offered anything in the world. It was pretty funny,” Mena said.
“For Jack, the trip is a new start and catchup time for him too. He can start being a kid again.”
With three brothers – Jake, 6, Andy, 11 and Marty, 13 – Jack’s three-and-a-half years of treatment took its toll on the St. Joseph’s school student and his siblings.
Leukemia treatment weakened his immune system, which allowed limited contact with his brothers and friends. Through his Grade 1 year, he attended perhaps 10 days of school, although by Grade 3 he was up to nearly full-time.
“It’s like living in a bubble,” Mena said. “You have to think about illnesses, that he’s susceptible to viruses and had a low immune system. It’s a different lifestyle.”
Mena left her job with the District of Saanich to be in Vancouver at the Children’s Hospital, and his dad Norm, a Saanich firefighter, looked after the rest of the boys.
“The fire department is like another family,” Norm said. “Anything we needed, they were there. It’s a blessing to have that for sure.”
Victoria-based Help Fill a Dream helps 50 to 70 Vancouver Island families per year. Assistance can be a family vacation, but also emergency money and living expenses when family members suddenly have to relocate to Vancouver to be near the B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Country Grocer stores are donating proceeds from Christmas tree sales, flower bouquets and at-the-till donations (called paper T-shirts) until Dec. 15.
“We’re happy to be involved. Last year we raised more than $10,000. This year we hope to do a lot better,” said Peter Caven with Country Grocer. “Being able to help local families is great.”
“We have a company based on Vancouver Island helping an organization based on Vancouver Island, helping children and families from Vancouver Island," said Denyse Koo, president of Help Fill a Dream. “This really is home-grown.”
For more on the Help Fill a Dream Foundation click here.