Onwards we go – a father’s anthem of survival

Stephen Mohan is a childhood cancer survivor. A fighter. And a Canuck Place father.

Nothing is harder than losing a child, and when his son Jasper was diagnosed at five months old with the same cancer he had as a child, the guilt and grief Stephen wrestled with almost broke him. While nothing truly prepares you for leading your child through cancer treatment, his personal battle against the disease, as well as unconditional love for his son, gave Stephen the strength to embrace their family battle cry ‘Onwards we go’

When Stephen was a baby he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer. He was treated with large doses of radiation and chemotherapy that stopped the disease from spreading, but not before it claimed his left eye at the age of two. He didn’t let that deter him from leading a life filled with truly incredible experiences, which eventually led him to meet the love of his life, Barbra. Then one wonderful day they both welcomed Jasper into this world and into the love of their family.

Despite being dealt the cancer card early in his infant years, Stephen’s son Jasper had a terrific childhood. He had many friends, his family loved him very much, and he was a bright kid who could hold his own in conversation with adults. The Mohan’s often heard that Jasper was the kind of person who could really make a difference in this world. He had an incredible imagination, and as a stay-at-home dad, Stephen got to fill his days with Jasper on all sorts of fun adventures.

Jasper spent his later childhood years in joyful remission. It wasn’t until he was a teen that a tumour showed itself in the Pineal Gland behind his beautiful eyes. Even with all the treatments, and how hard they struggled to keep him alive, Jasper’s condition worsened. There came a point where Stephen and Barbra were no longer able to care for him on their own. He required pain management on a scale well beyond what they were capable of, and they were both physically and emotionally exhausted. Their home town of Powell River didn’t have the level of health services they required, so they made the tough decision to move Jasper to Canuck Place in Vancouver.

“Onwards we go, was our family battle cry; our anthem,” says Stephen. “When you break down the long road of treatment into smaller more manageable pieces, concentrating on your daily successes, tasks, triumphs, setbacks or hurdles, things can look more doable. So regardless if something good happened on a particular day or if we received bad news, we could use our anthem to keep moving forward.”

Though none of them wanted to go, Canuck Place provided them a place of much needed respite in a comfortable home-like setting. Canuck Place doctors and nurses managed Jasper’s increasing need for pain and symptom management and prepared Stephen and Barbra for end-of-life care.

“A home is important to a child. Canuck Place offers the comfort and feeling of a home, while still having top notch doctors, nurses, and medical amenities. It provides an environment that is more peaceful and comfortable than a hospital, for both the children and the parents,” says Stephen.

On July 10th, 2013, at age 15, Jasper Solo Mohan passed away at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.

Grief is a highly individual experience, and grieving often starts at diagnosis. Canuck Place counsellors support families as they navigate their grief both before and after their child passes. Caring for Jasper as his illness progressed presented the Mohan’s with repeated losses of many sorts. Throughout all of it, they learned that pain, like love, is simply something to surrender to.

“Onwards we go, also says that we’re not done yet. The grief isn't gone. The fight isn't finished. The loss doesn't disappear. The sorrow doesn’t stop. You keep dealing with it all. You keep going onwards to the next day. Don’t give up,” says Stephen.

On June 12th, Jasper’s birthday, Stephen kicked off a fundraiser for Canuck Place – a 4,400km bike ride representing the Tour Divide course, known as “the toughest mountain bike race in the world.” The official race was cancelled due to Covid-19. He’s asking the community to help him cross the finish line virtually, in honour of Jasper and to raise funds for kids who need care at Canuck Place. Contribute to the fundraiser here.

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