Three weeks ago, David Shannon had to say goodbye to his baby daughter.
Elizabeth passed away on April 22 because of a knot in her umbilical cord. She was expected to be born a month later by caesarean. But after Shannon's wife couldn't feel her baby moving, she went to the hospital. When Shannon and their two daughters came to meet his wife there, the ultrasound showed no heartbeat.
They got to hold her for the first and last time.
"We had our moment of absolute despair and tragedy," said Shannon. "We got to hold Elizabeth for over 24 hours before it was time."
After such an immense loss, the family wants to give back. Shannon's five-year-old daughter Mila is donating her long, blonde hair to Wigs for Kids, a charity for children with cancer. In just over a week, the North Vancouver couple has already received $3,300. Their goal was a grand. Shannon said it's been overwhelming.
"The grief has been overwhelming, the loss had been overwhelming," he said.
"We have everything set up for this baby to come home and it's gone. That's been completely overwhelming and then you get this response ... And that's been overwhelming because you're just like, 'whoa, there are some amazing people out there.'"
Shannon and his wife, Caitlin Grange, both teachers, took to social media to get the word out about their story and cause. Through Facebook, Twitter and community groups, they've received a lot of support from friends, family, colleagues, and even from strangers.
"We've had strangers come to the house and deliver food," he said.
"There isn't enough words to describe how grateful we are for all their compassion and support at this time."
Mila is having her hair cut on May 21, the day Elizabeth was expected to arrive. Shannon said "a good chunk" - six to eight inches of Mila's hair, which now falls to the middle of her back, will be cut off. She'll have the cut at Avant Garde Hair Studio in Yaletown.
"Her hair is that white, golden blonde, that precious golden colour," said Shannon. "So hopefully there will be some kid out there who will really enjoy this set of hair."
All the money donated will go towards Wigs for Kids, which is set up through B.C. Children's Hospital. Shannon said though Mila might not completely understand everything about the money and overall significance that her haircut means, but that in time she will.
"We're just incredibly proud of her handling Elizabeth's passing and what's she's doing right now. I think that in the years to come she'll realize that how big this was and how important it was to give something back."
The following letter is from cancer survivor, wig recipient
and current Wigs for Kids BC spokesperson:
My name is Alex Walker and I am 20 years old and currently a student at UBC. When I was 16 years old, my entire world was turned upside down when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. My life went from fun, sports and dealing with what any normal teenager deals with to a life of chemotherapy, pain and fear. The months that followed my diagnosis were extremely difficult. I was in the hospital most of the time and was incredibly sick almost every day.
The one thing that I wanted to do every chance that I got was go to school. The only reason that I had the strength and confidence to go back to school after I lost my hair was getting my wig from Wigs for Kids. I can honestly say that I do not know what I would have done without it. I went everywhere with my wig, to school, to see my friends and even around the hospital. It truly made the most difference to me during my treatment. I was no longer identified as the sick girl or the cancer patient, I was me, Alex. My wig was my escape from the hospital life and my escape from cancer. When I put it on, I no longer had cancer I was simply me living my life doing the things that made me happy. Amazingly, some people had no idea that it was a wig because of the amazing work of the people who make it.
I can never thank Wigs for Kids enough and I continue to share my story in the hopes that I can contribute to this amazing cause and give a little back to what they have given me. I appreciate them so much in giving me the opportunity to inform people just how important and significant this organization is to a teenager going through cancer. Now I have been in remission for 3 years, healthy and happy living everyday to the fullest and never forgetting the people who supported and cared for me during my experience.
Former Wigs for Kids B.C. spokesperson Megan McNeil was interviewed for this story in January 2010.
"Looking like a normal teenager was an important part of my cancer treatment," says Wigs for Kids spokesperson Megan McNeil.
With a seemingly endless supply of energy to pursue her many interests including dancing, drawing, singing, and sports, North Delta teenager Megan McNeil didn't let a painful rib injury she sustained during track and field slow her down. But when the injury didn't seem to be getting any better, she consulted her doctor. Blood tests and a CT scan led to a diagnosis of a rare form of cancer of the adrenal glands just after her 16th birthday.
Overnight, she went from being a typical teenager to someone who needed to focus all her energy on getting better. For more than three years Megan endured 12 weeks of radiation, eight surgeries and more than 20 rounds of chemotherapy. "And that doesn't include the oral rounds of chemo," says Megan. "It was intense." McNeil's parents were there for her through it all. Her mother Suzanne McNeil quit her job so that she could attend all of her appointments and support her through the treatments. Suzanne admits it took an emotional toll on the family, but says, "We confronted it and stayed positive."
She noted that of all the things that Megan had to go through, there were really only two things that were extremely upsetting to her: the possibility of not graduating with her friends, and going bald. "When the chemotherapy treatments caused Megan's hair to fall out, at first she wouldn't even let family see her that way," says Suzanne. It was hard for Megan's friends and family to accept that someone so young and healthy could develop cancer, but seeing her go bald made it even worse.
Purchasing a human-hair wig for Megan was the solution, but the hefty $1,000-plus price tag was financially out of reach for them. BC Children's Hospital stepped in, acquiring one for her through Wigs for Kids BC. Receiving the wig was huge for Megan. "It made me feel like a normal teenager again," she says. "I wouldn't let myself feel sick. Putting on my wig and doing my makeup helped me do that." When the first wig wore out, Wigs for Kids provided Megan with a second one, which she wore to her high school graduation. "It's still sitting on my dresser styled in the "up" do I wore," says Megan.
The wigs made such a difference to her, it was important to Megan to give back to Wigs for Kids BC. "Once I received my wig I knew I needed to be a volunteer spokesperson," says Megan. In addition to her work for Wigs for Kids B.C., Megan volunteers for Balding for Dollars and other charities.
A song Megan wrote during her first year of treatment called "The Will to Survive" was later released as a campaign, which began in Childhood Cancer Awareness month September 2010. Later in 2010, Megan suffered a relapse. She succumbed to the disease she fought so hard to overcome on January 28, 2011, at the age of 20. Her lasting legacy is one of hope, gentle strength, and what it means to have the will to survive.
This letter is from Susan Schlief of Kelowna on behalf of her daughter, wig recipient, Selah:
A letter from Selah :)
Hi. My name is Selah. I am 7 years old.
Two weeks before I finished grade one something scary happened to me. I had long beautiful hair and my hair started falling out. Two weeks later most of it was gone and only some patches were left. I did not want to go to school any more because I felt nervous that people would make fun of me or laugh at me. I just wanted to stay at home so no one could see me. My Mommy was sad too but she would always tell me was a pretty girl and it didn't matter if I had hair or not. But I still felt sad.
I like to wear my Hello Kitty hat and never wanted to take it off. I went to the doctor and they told me I have a disease that's called alopecia. But its not contagious so don't worry. I don't know if or when my hair will grow back, but my mom told me to think of good things about not having hair, and well you can't get head lice so that's good. I missed having hair and my mom found a place called Wigs For Kids BC on the internet.
BC Children's hospital gave the ok and then I got to go to Vancouver to get measured for a real hair wig. Before that my mom got me a wig at the mall and it was fake hair and kind of melted in the sun when I played. I was excited to be getting a real one just before school. Now I have a nice wig. People usually can't tell and I laugh when they tell me how awesome my hair is because it is not really mine and I feel like I have tricked them! Some of my friends tells me they wish they could have a wig and change their hair but they still have their own hair. I want to say thank you for the wig. I feel happy and I can even hang upside down on the monkey bars and it doesn't fall off!
We want to help more children get wigs so my Mom is having a fundraiser for Wigs For Kids. I hope everyone can give donations and help out other kids like me who need hair.
From Sela Schlief
Dear Ms. Friesen,
Good morning. My name is Claire McDonald, and I am Hannah Hechanova's Education Assistant at Old Yale Road Elementary School in Surrey.
Hannah would like to thank you so very much for the kindness and generosity of Wigs for Kids. Having a new wig has given her much more self-confidence around her classmates and her teachers. It has been a difficult road for this young lady, as you can imagine with having anxiety, severe eczema along with alopecia totallis.
As this is her last year in elementary school, the pressure of looking like every other girl is mounting. When September arrives, being in a new school with 1200 other students will definitely prove stressful. If it weren't for the new wig that has helped her become more confident and accepted I wouldn't see a young lady ready to take on the world.
Please thank all the people who donate to this very special charity. Without their support, Hannah would become a wallflower, not a budding rose waiting to bloom.
Thank you very much.
Hannah Hechanova and Claire McDonald
Miss Lena Cadogan
Wigs for Kids,
My name is Lena Cadogan and I would like to extend my thanks to you for the hairpiece I recently received from Eva's Wigs & Co. Because I now have a beautiful, full head of hair framing my face, I feel better about myself, more attractive and I have been out of the house doing more activities with my friends. I really feel like a brand new me.
Thank you again for your generous support.
The following two letters are from the parents of recipients who wish to remain anonymous.
We would like to thank "Wigs for Kids" for helping out with our child's care by purchasing her medication 'Budesinide' every month for the past few months. This medication has allowed her to keep food down as she fights the complications, (GVHD, Graft Versus Host Disease) from a stem cell transplant in February 2008.
This medication is very expensive and without this help we would be put in further financial stress. The past months and now years have taken their toll on our family as we continue to try to keep our head above water financially. The care of our daughter has taken first place in our life over the past three and one half years. We have had to close our small business (with it went our source of income) and put a second mortgage on our house, this of course along with the stress of a sick child.
Wigs for Kids came through with help when we were at our lowest financially (and also emotionally) and we are so grateful for that. Without this help we would have been forced to liquidate everything in order to stay afloat. And from there, who knows?
Thank you, thank you, thank you Wigs for Kids.
A family in Duncan, B.C.
I never thought a wig could be so important to our daughter. About three months into her cancer treatment her hair started to come out in clumps...now it was real. Everything we'd heard, everything we feared took on new meaning...we were already in debt and could not even imagine being able to afford a wig among other things.
When she finally and reluctantly put on the wig...she seemed to change... She smiled for the first time in a long time and said, "I always wanted to be a blond...funny how wishes come true in the strangest ways. At times though I think it was harder for my parents..."
Thanks to all of you who helped to make this happen and God Bless.