Emily Foster remembers clowns visiting her room at BC Children’s Hospital (BCCH) “to try to cheer me up.”
She can also recollect sitting in a bed in her hospital room, wearing a gown.
But the passage of time has clouded Emily’s memories of her harrowing health journey.
More accurately, those images are faded because the Langley girl was just three years old when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening form of cancer.
Jump ahead nine years and Emily — adorned in a yellow shirt and a red ball cap — strolled shoulder to shoulder with adults decades older than her, as they walked in unison around the McLeod Athletic Park running track during the Langley Relay For Life’s Survivors’ Victory Lap.
As much as the June 9 evening event serves as an annual fundraiser to support Canada’s most promising cancer research and vital support services for people with cancer and their families, it is about hope.
And there’s no better symbol of hope than 12-year-old Emily, who was joined by her parents, Shelly (who is currently battling breast cancer) and Rick, at the six-hour fundraiser that wrapped up at the stroke of midnight and raised roughly $140,000, thus far, for the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS).
These funds are needed now more than ever, in the light of a CCS report — released on Tuesday — indicating that nearly one in two Canadians is expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
The report from the CCS, in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada, shows that for males, the lifetime risk is 49 per cent and for females it is 45 per cent.
The report also includes some frightening statistics: one in four Canadians will die of cancer, while an estimated 206,200 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Almost 90 per cent of these cases will be among Canadians 50 years of age and older.
For those at risk, others currently battling the disease, and in memory of the many who have lost their battles against cancer, the Fosters walked June 9.
In January 2009, Emily was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. A tumour had grown around a rib, high on the right side of her torso.
“It was terrifying as a parent,” Shelly said. “Very scary.”
Shelly said her daughter’s only symptoms was she was pale, and up in the night coughing “and a bit of crying because she was uncomfortable.”
“Prior to this she was a perfectly healthy active kid, almost never even a cold,” Shelly said.
Emily was brought to a local clinic, where the doctor believed she had pneumonia.
“So he gave us antibiotics, but she didn’t respond to that right away,” Shelly said.
Shelly and Rick knew something was wrong. They took Emily to emergency.
“I had no idea it was a tumour, though,” Shelly said. “It didn’t occur to me that babies of three (years old) could grow cancerous tumours in their bodies.”
Shelly admitted that she knew nothing of childhood cancer.
“I just knew I had to get her to the hospital…I was so afraid,” Shelly shared.
From Langley Memorial Hospital, Emily was transferred to BC Children’s Hospital, and it was there where the family received the diagnosis. Rick and Shelly still have the picture Emily drew as the doctors told them that their daughter had cancer.
Emily drew, on a big yellow piece of paper, flowers mixed in with smiley faces.
“We were in shock, but they are so amazing at BCCH,” Shelly said. “They took such good care of all of us and kept Emily happy and distracted with toys, bubbles, paper and crayons.”
The tumour was the size of a grapefruit, growing inside Emily’s rib cage. It had pushed into her lung and forced her wind pipe to bend around it.
In total, Emily endured eight rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and reconstruction, followed by six more rounds of chemo to battle the disease. When the treatments were completed, the tumour had shrunk to the size of a golf ball.
“By the very end of all the chemo rounds she was bald and pale and such a skinny little thing, but always goofing around and hamming it up, anything to get a laugh,” Shelly said.
No radiation was needed.
“We were so fortunate that things went well with her treatment — no complications,” Shelly said. “We met lots of children who were not as lucky.”