Health struggles take financial toll on Saanich family

Chilli Fest will raise funds for family of Saanich girl battling cancer

Emma Smith has undergone three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy treatments

Emma Smith has undergone three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy treatments

Just as quickly as Emma Smith’s face lights up with smiles, it can also turn quiet.

The 12-year-old Lansdowne middle school student chatted gleefully on Tuesday afternoon about how many times she’s read the entire Harry Potter series (four) while sitting next to her father Darrell on the living room couch of their Lakehill area home. She also jokes nervously about what it will be like when her 10-year-old brother Charlie joins her at Lansdowne next year.

After three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy treatments, pain killers, brain operations and various medications, the cancer in Emma’s brain and spine just won’t go away. Her family is currently awaiting the platelet count in her blood to restore to the minimum level for yet another round of chemotherapy.

The best thing Emma’s parents Darrell and Diane can do for now is be with her. For Darrell, it’s meant putting work on hold at various periods since 2012. And now the financial strain has finally caught up to them and the Smiths are unsure where to turn.

Yet it wasn’t until Heather Hanson talked to her neighbours in passing recently, that she learned of the financial strain the family is under.

“We’ve raised money before,” Diane said.

The problem is it’s taxing to go back to the immediate community which has already been supportive, Hanson said.

Hanson quickly rallied with a neighbourhood campaign that raised enough to cover a month’s mortgage and grocery bills. And now she’s hoping a crowdfunding campaign could do the same for the Smiths that has been done for families in similar situations, by raising enough money to replace a portion of a year’s salary.

The family has a crowdfunding page on gogetfunding.com/helpemma that was at $5,600 on Wednesday.

“My family went through something like this when I was young in the 1950s and my sister took ill,” Hanson said. “Eventually we lost everything.”

Since the recent fundraising effort, you can already feel a tension has lifted from the Smith house, Hanson said.

A retired oncology nurse, Hanson is leading a few upcoming events such as a Chilli Fest contest at St. Peter’s Church on April 23.

“It’s by donation and everyone is welcome. There will be a small silent auction there too,” Hanson said.

Emma isn’t sure how to cook chilli but told her dad she’d do whatever she could.

“The first time Emma was diagnosed I was working in Thailand and the second time I was in Calaise, France,” Darrell said. “Both times I came home right away.”

He quickly learned that two months is too long to be away

Work had been sporadic for Darrell, and now in 2016, it’s non-existent. The cartographer specializes in project management for companies laying telecommunication cables on sea floors. The jobs take him all over the world and are often too long for Darrell to commit to.

“With the oil industry struggling, there’s people with similar experience available to my industry who previously weren’t,” he said. “It’s quite a number of factors making it difficult to find work.”

For Emma, there’s nothing she’d like more than having her father at home. She attends school at Lansdowne most mornings, where there’s been plenty of support from the school and classmates.

Emma’s also expecting it will be nice to have Charlie at school next year.

“I guess he’s still my little brother, even if he is bigger than me,” she laughed.

 

The Chilli Fest is Saturday, April 23, by donation, at St. Peter’s Church, 3939 St. Peter’s Rd.