Nadia Phillips can hug again.
Her doctors finally gave her the all clear after a summer of isolation, cut off from the rest of the world as her immune system flagged under intense chemotherapy.
It was the best news a four-year-old girl with leukemia could get.
Not a new doll, or a shiny bike, but the chance to hug again, to share secrets with friends, to hold hands and skip, that's what Nadia wanted.
"I'm a positive person but I've definitely had my moments," said mom Caroline Morris of the relentless roller-coaster journey of the past year, a journey that has stripped her little girl with bright blue eyes of a normal childhood.
"You never think it's going to happen to you."
But it happens to 1,500 families across Canada every year and today there are about 10,000 children living with cancer.
Some, like Nadia, are living in the Sea to Sky corridor, which presents its own unique challenges.
That's one of the reasons why a small group of people is leading the charge to create a new local foundation to help families dealing with pediatric cancer.
It kicked off this week with an online auction — Nadia's Nest Egg — on Facebook. The money raised over the next month will be shared — some will support Nadia's family, some will go to support the BC Children's Foundation - Leukemia Research, and the rest will help Sea to Sky families struggling with cancer.
Friend Alexandra Shanny, who has led the charge on the fundraiser after seeing the viral success of the ice bucket challenge that raised millions for ALS, has known Nadia since she was born. She was the paramedic who drove Nadia to the hospital the day she was diagnosed.
Shanny has seen the toll this past year has taken on the family — emotionally and financially — and she's glad to see Nadia as the incentive for helping more families.
"It was really all inspired by Nadia and getting the right people in the room to have those conversations," said Michelle Williamson, whose husband was diagnosed with cancer one year ago and who knows just how difficult it is for a family to go through cancer treatment.
The foundation's name has yet to be officially determined. Its mission, however, is clear.
"It's very much a grassroots, in its infancy, kind of thing," said Williamson. "There's a lot of passion behind it."
The passion comes in part from Bill and Lisa Geddes who, like Morris and her husband Brent Phillips, have walked the journey of childhood cancer.
Their son Nick Geddes was diagnosed with leukemia in 2011. He was 17.
The Geddes' now want to give back to the community for the support they received at that time through Nick's cancer and transplant.
"I think it's very important," said Geddes of the creation of a foundation to support other Sea to Sky families. "Although there is a provincial support organization that provides some financial assistance to all families in need in B.C.... there are many generous individuals and business in this corridor of small, tight-knit communities that I feel may prefer to donate to support families closer to home, families who may be known to the donors personally.
"Setting up a foundation for the Sea to Sky corridor targets dollars closer to home."
Though the past year has been a blur, and on many days Morris just felt as though she was treading water, she well remembers the challenges when they and Nadia were in the thick of it.
Those memories won't go away.
Driving down the highway in the middle of the night when Nadia had a fever because the doctors in Whistler are unable to access her internal Port to give her the urgent IV.
Being in isolation in the hospital, or at home, with no access to friends — cut off from the world with a sick four-year-old and a newborn baby to care for.
Juggling work so one parent was always with Nadia.
And then there are the little challenges that add up — driving back and forth to the city four or five times a week, parking every time, a cost which quickly adds up, making sure they had a place to stay and food to eat. Fortunately Nadia's grandparents live in the city, others are not so lucky.
"Having a foundation set up specifically to assist families who may not have a large enough support system, or job flexibility, or (for families with) very young children at home would help make a very difficult situation a great deal less stressful," said Geddes, who envisions a few key fundraising blitzes annually to take away the need to have events each time a family is in crisis.
Of course, there is also perhaps the biggest challenge of all — the unknown — the sharp fear, the endless worry, the heartbreaking horror of it all, the stress of the often-lonely road ahead.
"We have found so much strength from those that have been there for us from Day 1," said Morris. "People have delivered home-cooked meals, healthy goody bags and gifts for Nadia to cheer her up. All those things have had a huge impact on our morale over the past year."
The journey has also given Morris an behind-the-curtains look at cancer treatment, one of the reasons why she wants to see more research into childhood leukemia.
Nadia's diagnosis was high by default.
"She's just getting slammed with way more than she actually needs to, which is so frustrating," said Morris.
"It needs more research to have more individualized treatment."
The Facebook fundraising auction kicked of Oct. 6 at 1 a.m. and runs until Nov. 1 at 4 a.m. Anyone can add an auction item, or bid on any of the items already posted. The goal is to raise $10,000.
Donate directly at www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/nadia-s-nest/238992/donate#pp.
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