By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
JARVIS—Those wishing to take part in the Help A Child Smile (HACS) charity’s online 50/50 lottery need to hurry; tickets are only available until Monday, May 31 at 6 p.m., with the draw happening at 7 p.m. that same night.
HACS is a grass-roots organization created over 30 years ago that seeks to provide fun, exciting opportunities and experiences for children battling cancer and their families. Tracy Fast of Jarvis experienced the difference HACS makes first-hand when her daughter Eden was diagnosed with stage 3 B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma four years ago.
She recalls, “It was during the cold and flu season. We kind of chalked up her symptoms to being sort of a flu. When they became more concerning, we took her in to the family doctor who immediately recognized something was very wrong with her.”
Eden was brought to McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton by ambulance, where she was diagnosed with cancer.
“The journey for her included four and a half months of heavy-duty chemo. She handled it quite well, considering how they prepped us for the journey as a very rough ride,” explained Fast. “She was put into remission after that four and a half months and has stayed in remission ever since.”
Eden just reached a significant milestone in her journey. At four years now since her cancer first went into remission, doctors are no longer looking for relapses anymore; her care now revolves around recovering from the effects of her chemo treatments and supporting her forward progress.
It was within those early months when the diagnosis was fresh that the Fast family was first approached by a social worker at the hospital, letting them know Eden qualified for participation in HACS.
“It was such a positive thing, especially for Eden, to go from ‘this really sucks that I’m hospitalized’ and all the sacrifices you make with your health, like she lost her hair, it was a devastating time, to know that there was something special ahead when you finish, you’re going to be able to go on a trip … not just for Eden but her siblings as well; their lives were turned upside down as well,” said Fast. “To be able to focus on something positive really was such a high moment in our hard times.”
Once Eden completed her treatments and was able to leave the hospital, HACS sent the family on an all-inclusive trip to Florida.
“They’re not just sending you to Disney, but to a magical place all in itself – this little resort called Give Kids the World. Even if we didn’t have Disney, going to this resort, there’s no words to describe this place. It’s run by volunteers who are the most loving, positive people, and they just spoil you the whole time. They gave Eden a star that she writes her name on and it goes on the ceiling…. When you look up at the ceiling there are just thousands upon thousands of these stars,” recalled Fast.
She remembers being blown away by the way every detail of their trip was taken care of: “You don’t have to think about anything. Having a sick child is all consuming. To be able to go somewhere and not have to plan a single thing … it kind of feels like you’re protected in a bubble from the harsh realities of the world.”
It’s not just the big trip that Fast is thankful to HACS for. Through them, her family has been connected to a network of other families experiencing life with a sick child, through activities like picnics and outings to places like water parks or African Lion Safari: “It’s a neat way to be near to other families that are experiencing the same thing as you. No one can relate to you as much as families that have sick children as well.”
With the ongoing pandemic, HACS, like many charitable groups, is struggling to meet their fundraising goals to be able to continue providing the same level of care and support to the many sick children across the area who need it.
“The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to cancel all our in-person fundraising events. In the past, we have raised over $200,000 per year for our programming and supports, but 2020 hit us hard,” said Board Chair Nelson Mota. “We need to make up for a funding shortfall to keep on track. Our revenue dropped by 44% in 2020 compared to 2019.”
Fast touched on how living through the pandemic has given normal families a small window into what life with a sick child is like, and why funding for charities like HACS is so important right now: “Maybe people can relate to suffering kids, seeing how hard it is on kids to have things taken away from them…. They’re not able to go to school, or to theme parks. Sports are taken away, everything is taken away, and they’re kind of isolated…. The pandemic will eventually end, but for kids with cancer, it’s a diagnosis that follows you for the rest of your life.”
She hopes many will be able to contribute to keep HACS going: “They really do live up to their name…. They really do put smiles on children’s faces and that makes a difference in the journey.”
Tickets for the online 50/50 draw are available for purchase at smileys5050.com. You can buy 10 for $10, 50 for $20, 150 for $50, and 400 for $100.