Jane Neaves is hoping to wrap up a difficult year in a positive direction.
Driving back and forth from McMaster’s Children’s Hospital has become routine for her, supporting dear friends whose little girl, Vivian, just three when she was first diagnosed with cancer, was in hospital for more than a year.
That was six years ago, and five years later, the little girl, at eight, went through another bout of chemotherapy, this time as an outpatient, for a recurrence of a rare kind of luekemia.
Neaves often drove to help the family, which includes an older sister, and parents who operate their own business.
But this last year became even more difficult.
This summer, just days before Vivian’s 10th birthday, she was diagnosed again with cancer for the third time.
She was approved for a fairly new treatment, Chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, at Sick Kids Hospital in
Toronto, giving cells the new ability to target specific hidden cancer cells.
Between hospital visits, she was staying with her parents in a nearby Chelsea Inn, paid for by a charitable organization.
She is home now, finished the treatment, and for the first time, Neaves says, “I heard the word cured.”
During her time spent on the children’s cancer ward in Hamilton four years ago, Neaves asked a nurse if Santa would come to visit the children who couldn’t go home over Christmas.
She was told no, Santa wouldn’t make it to the hospital, and she determined to change that.
There are typically around 90 or more children who are there over Christmas. This year there will be 87, and for the fourth year, Neaves intends to ensure there are gifts for them, left by Santa.
Many families, spending days, months, and more with a seriously ill child in the hospital, are unable to work and struggle financially, she says, and many have other children at home, so she decided she would help make Christmas a little easier for them.
She was also not in a good place herself, having survived a work-related assault that sent her assailant to jail for four years. She was struggling, unable to go back to work, and discovered taking on a challenge to help children suffering from cancer made her feel she could do something positive.
She reached out to friends and on social media with a request for cash and toys, making sure every child in the hospital, and in some cases siblings — who often feel forgotten during a difficult family situation, she says — had gifts to open.
Neaves says the after-effects such an assault has had on her life will never go away, but helping the children in hospital at Christmas continues to give her something positive to focus on.
She has friends in Niagara-on-the-Lake who help her, including Pat Darte and Mona Babin, who are assisting by donating and by accepting donations, says Neaves.
Toys that Hamilton hospital staff have recommended include Paw Patrol items, LOL dolls, Mini brands, dinosaurs, Thomas the Train, Lego, Pokemon cards, unicorn crafts, Frozen toys, Play Doh, and anything associated with Sloth.
Donations can be dropped off at Darte’s home at 834 Queenston Road in NOTL, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Babin, who lives in Garrison Village can be reached at email@example.com, and will make arrangements for the collection of donations.
Neaves can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.