Three very sick children in Eeyou Istchee are smiling today thanks to the Children’s Wish Foundation. One is on his way to Disneyland in California. And two others are also looking forward to visiting Mickey Mouse and his band of animated friends in the near future.
Their dreams are coming true because of the Mistissini branch of the Children’s Wish Foundation. It has only been open for a year-and-a-half and they are in the process of granting their first wishes to sick kids.
The wishes are an important aid on the road to recovery for both child and parent, according to Marc-André Beaudoin, Coordinator for the Wish Foundation in Mistissini. “The main thing is to give relief to the parent and the child,” he said. “Most of the wishes are to go to Disneyland. When they go on these trips the parents have a good time with their children apart from the hospitals or clinics. We really try to focus on that relationship and make sure they spend a lot of quality time together. Even medically, once they come from a trip like that they’re more relaxed. So it helps a child to heal. We’re trying to give hope to a child that has a life-threatening illness.”
Beaudoin added that close to 90 per cent of children with a life-threatening disease who have their wish granted make a full recovery.
Waskaganish’s Norm Blacksmith’s dream growing up was to visit Disneyland and see up close the animated characters he has come to adore. At press time, he was doing just that.
“We’re very excited,” said his father Ivan, who left with his family on April 20. “He’s always wanted to go to Disneyland since he was four years old. Now he’s going to get his chance. We’ve had so much on our minds and we’ll finally get a chance to relax a little bit.”
Norm was born with liver sclerosis and underwent a liver transplant in 2002, but he wasn’t out of the woods just yet. Last January, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor near his rectum. They operated and got most of it, but couldn’t get it all. They chose to aggressively treat the rest of it with chemotherapy.
“They told us one of the risks involved with that transplant was cancer,” said his mother Sarah. “It was very devastating when the doctor informed us. We cried when we found out.”
After a few months however, the Blacksmiths received some great news. Doctors told them that the tumor was gone and Norm’s spirits were instantly elevated. But he will still have to undergo a few more weeks of chemotherapy.
He was so happy in fact that he was able to suit up for his Novice ‘A’ team, the Waskaganish Future Wings, and help his teammates win back-to-back tournaments in Amos and Val d’Or.
Their home community of Waskaganish had raised over $10,000 for them, but they got a call one day telling them that the Children’s Wish Foundation was sending them to Disneyland as part of Norm’s long time dream.
“I’m very thankful that they did this for my son,” said Norm’s beaming father.
This is the first time, Beaudoin said, that Cree kids have benefited from the Children’s Wish Foundations’ generous support. Last year an Inuk child received a wish, but that was as close as it has come until now. Beaudoin admits not many people know about the Foundation.
“Our job is to try to get the foundation known,” he said. “We bring pamphlets to the hospital and call people. We try to get in touch with the doctors and the clinics where we expect to see sick children. In the Cree world it’s usually by word-of-mouth. So then we try to reach the parents and tell them about it.”
The foundation has been around since 1986 and has granted over 11,600 wishes in that time.
Tina Brown, 9, was diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). One November day in Eastmain her legs felt weak and she couldn’t go back to school. Her mother was beside herself when after a visit and a blood test at the local clinic, they sent them to the Montreal Children’s Hospital where the cancer was discovered.
“I was devastated,” said her mom Denise. “I can’t really describe it, I was shocked and surprised. I wasn’t really expecting it.”
The strength of her child, she told the Nation, is what keeps her going some nights when the overwhelming sadness of her situation hits her square in the face. “She’s very strong; sometimes I feel she’s so much stronger than me,” said her mom. “It’s hard to see your children go through that type of pain and not being able to make it go away. She’ll be like ‘It’s okay mom, I can take it.’ She keeps everything together and makes it easier.”
“She’s still thinking about going away to school and eventually become a teacher. She still has plans for her future.”
Doctors have told the Browns that Tina has an over 85 per cent chance of survival with this type of Leukemia. Although it is an uphill struggle, especially at the stage her treatment is at. “She’s at a time in her treatment where she’s very weak and finds it difficult to move and stuff like that.”
When they found out, Tina was confused. A word like cancer, although scary to adults, didn’t make much sense to her. “She didn’t really understand it,” said Denise. “We didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t until she lost her hair. When it started falling out she realized what was really happening and I guess me too. We were a little scared because it comes out in clumps sometimes and it’s frightening. But then you get over it because it’s only hair.”
Dancing Water Binette-Wapachee, 7, has also had her share of heartache. She underwent her third open-heart surgery procedure in December at the Ste. Justine’s Hospital in Montreal.
“She was born with half a heart,” her mother Alice told the Nation. After the last operation “we’re hoping she’ll be okay at least until her early 30’s. Then she will probably need a heart transplant.”
Dancing Water has been recovering well since the surgery. She can now run and play like other kids her age.
She was born with only two of four heart valves and the remaining two frequently block. In previous surgeries doctors have had to connect her heart to veins in her chest and arm to keep blood flowing to the artery.
Beaudoin added that any child who is between the ages of 3 and 18 and suffering from a life-threatening illness is eligible for a wish.
There will be a Children’s Wish Foundation golf tournament June 9 in Chibougamau in honour of Kim Raymond, a sick child from that town who died last November after a battle with Cystic Fibrosis.
Denise Brown said that the Eastmain band and the Cree Human Resources Department where she works have been a huge help in dealing with her daughters’ illness.
“I’ve been able to go back and forth to Montreal at the CHRD, and for that I’m grateful. They make it possible for us to go and fight cancer.”
Sadly, some wishes cannot be granted. “When I asked Tina what her wish would be, she said that she’d wish she didn’t have cancer. That made me very sad.”
To make a sick child’s dream come true or to find out how to help, contact Marc Beaudoin (418) 923-3461, ext 309.