It is through the tragedy of a young life lost in Penticton that many others found strength this year.
In February of 2015 I found out a friend’s daughter was ill. After weeks of Myla being sick and in pain, a mass tissue was found behind her nasal cavity affecting her ear as well as her throat, it was diagnosed as rhabdomyosarcoma.
Cancer may have slowed the normally energetic kid down but not everyone around her. Within days of the news spreading there was a GoFundMe account, fundraisers and words of encouragement shared — the support came rolling in. In fact, I wrote a column about it and it continues to be one of the things I get asked most about when walking down the street.
In the midst of all this, actually well before Myla got her diagnosis, another Penticton girl was fighting for her life.
Kaylee Kozari-Bowland was a Penticton Secondary Student when she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. She shared love, hope, joy and strength just as passionately as she fought the disease. Her family said even on her darkest days she still had smiles for others. After a courageous battle, Kaylee died in April.
While my softball team (The Smoking Aces) were hosting a tournament in Penticton, with proceeds to help Myla’s family for the costs they were now facing to fight cancer, I remember seeing random people walk up and donate. First it was a pack of cyclists, then I heard that someone came from Kaylee’s celebration of life with a cheque for Myla’s family. I don’t think they knew them, just their story.
Myla’s mom kept everyone updated on her progress, posting photos of them at the children’s hospital — most often with Myla smiling despite lying on a hospital bed and no doubt had most likely dealt with a lot of poking and prodding that day.
Fast-forward to Dec. 4, it had been a brutal year of travelling to Seattle and more frequently to Vancouver for treatments that an early Christmas wish came true. After countless needles, hospital waiting rooms, transfusions, fevers, proton treatment, chemotherapy, fearful tears, a patient older-sister Vanelle keeping Myla company, a strong mom and a dad who home-schooled Myla for months with the help of Columbia Elementary — Myla’s scans were clear and she is in remission. Scans will continue but Myla is strong and full of energy (I wish you could see the little rock star dancing to Don’t Wanna Fight by the Alabama Shakes).
Somewhere in the middle of all this happening to Myla, Kaylee’s Hero Fund (www.kayleesherofund.ca) was formed to support local children with cancer. From the agony of having to watch their children go through treatment, a group of Penticton parents bonded — including Myla’s family. Leaning on each other when their torches of hope were dim, they realized through their children that they needed to pass that on to others when they are in need. After holding their first fundraiser in November, already $20,000 has been given to the Penticton and District Community Resource Society, who manage the funds. They are hoping to build it up so that when other families with children who have cancer need financial assistance it can be available.
Kaylee’s mom, Tammy Kozari, said her daughter would be proud. The kindness that everyone knew Kaylee for is now a legacy that others continue when they donate, share information or volunteer for her Hero Fund.
Businesses have stepped forward, donating to fundraisers and hosting their own events like the Melt Mineral Spa ladies night on Feb. 21. All of which are great, but the ones that get me are when the kids give back too. Kaylee was to graduate this year and her peers went out carolling to raise money, donating half to the fund and half to Penticton Mental Health in honour of another student. Then there is the novice Penticton Minor Hockey team that held a family skate with Santa recently with proceeds to the fund. Once again Kaylee’s legacy, and all of these local kids who are battling cancer continue to inspire.
Yes, in 2015 there were elections, high profile politicians visiting, exciting sporting events and bands coming through but this was my favourite thing to follow. Regular kids having their lives tossed upside down by a disease and showing us all how to be super heroes.
Kristi Patton is the editor of the Penticton Western News