Jack Knox: When it comes to kids, Victoria just a big small town

Jack Knox mugshot genericThis has been a week — a month, a year — for contemplating the miracle, and the fragility, of life.

Emotion-wracked Dylan Benson has been thrust into the spotlight by tragedy and medical wonder, his young wife Robyn giving birth, then slipping away, six weeks after her brain was suddenly stilled by an aneurysm.

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At the same time, Victorians watch four-year-old Hannah Day struggle with cancer. Big crowds have turned out for stem-cell donor “swab mobs” in the Langford girl’s name.

Victoria is good about rallying around children in need. It’s like a small town in that way, even when the connection to the child is vicarious. People here develop genuine attachment to families they don’t know, in the same way the whole country took to Terry Fox and his journey.

As with Terry, the story doesn’t always have the ending we want. Two Victoria children who were embraced by the community died last summer, Molly Campbell and Madrona Fuentes — Baby Molly and Baby Madrona — both succumbing to leukemia at age two.

Madrona would have been three next week. Her family is marking her birthday by inviting Victorians to join in a walk/run in her memory at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

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The event, with one- and five-kilometre routes, starts at the Frontrunners store at View and Vancouver streets. Entry is by donation, with the money going to help other local families dealing with childhood cancer.

“We had so many people who helped us. This will allow us to pay it forward,” says Madrona’s mother, Michelle Purvis-Fuentes.

Today, almost eight months after Madrona’s death last June, her family has regained some of the routine that vanished following the girl’s cancer diagnosis a year earlier.

Madrona’s big brother, who talks about her every day, is in school now. Dad Rafael Fuentes has gone back to his youth corrections job. In September, Michelle resumed running the daycare she had to give up after Madrona got sick. She calls her work a blessing — “I get to hug little people all day” — even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

“Sometimes it’s hard,” she says. “It depends on the state that you’re in at the moment.”

The family remains grateful for the help they got from the community. Vancouver Island parents carry an extra financial burden when their kids are sick, with at least one — usually mom— giving up work to move to Vancouver and B.C. Children’s Hospital. If the rest of the family comes over on weekends, that’s more than $600 a month in ferry fares alone.

Madrona’s parents know of three Victoria families they hope the proceeds of Sunday’s run will help. One has a three-year-old with brain cancer. Another has a child who has relapsed.

It’s a reminder of how many cancer-stricken children there are whose names we never learn; two dozen are diagnosed on Vancouver Island each year. Don’t go looking for reason in how they are chosen. Cancer is capricious.

Sometimes the outcomes aren’t what we want. Sometimes they are. Last September, you might have read about Saanich police Sgt. Mike Lawless, the longtime Cops for Cancer volunteer who — and here he himself recognized the irony — was diagnosed with stage three lung cancer prior to the Tour de Rock.

Instead of being with the cyclists as they embarked on the pediatric cancer fundraiser last fall, he was beginning his treatment: six weeks of radiation and four cycles of chemotherapy, three or four weeks per cycle.

Here’s the update: The chemo was brutal, killing good cells with bad, taking him close to the edge. Two weeks before Christmas, Lawless passed out, couldn’t get up, landed in hospital for six days as his blood count fell dangerously low.

But last Friday, when the results of his scan came back, the news was as good as it could be: no active cancer cells, diffused healing in the tumour in his lung.

“We’re ecstatic. It’s very much a relief,” he said when reached on the phone Monday. He was on his way to seeing The Lego Movie with his boys. It was Family Day.

If you can’t make Sunday’s Memory Walk/Run for Madrona, her parents ask that you consider giving blood to Canadian Blood Services or signing up as a potential donor through its OneMatch stem cell and marrow network.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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