Cancer, Kids, and the YMCA


Having a sick child is the last thing any parent wants to think about. But it happened to us. And to our beautiful daughter Julia, who was barely three years old.

My name is Dave, my wife is Christy, and this is our Y story.

When Julia, our middle child, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a rare form of bone cancer – we felt overwhelmed. It happened so fast. We brought her to the hospital because she was limping and within 24 hours she was diagnosed with the same cancer Terry Fox had. Julia didn’t walk on her own again for the next 18 months.

Julia’s treatments were intensive and took a physical and emotional toll on our entire family. She had reconstructive surgery and 30 weeks of chemotherapy. The tumour was on her right femur near her hip. The doctor’s took out most of her femur and made her knee function as her hip and her ankle function as her knee. She then had to learn how to use a prosthesis to walk.

Her pain levels were high, but she is a trooper. Little kids aren’t like adults – they don’t feel sorry for themselves. Julia was sweet and chipper in good moments, and quiet and sometimes a little irritable in bad moments. Even on the worst days, when her mouth was so sore from medication that she couldn’t talk, Julia would find a smile for her baby sister Jael.

Our oldest child Joshua, just fifteen months older than Julia, really stepped up to help take care of little Jael during Julia’s recovery. It was hard on him, he had to be much more responsible than normal kids his age, but we’ve see how compassionate he’s become.

During Julia’s recovery we went to Crowfoot YMCA. Our neighbour, Sharon, volunteered there and sometimes took Josh with her so he could have a break from the stress of hospitals. Sharon encouraged us to get involved too.

Cancer’s toll isn’t just huge emotional and physical – it’s financial too. We both took time off work to care for Julia and we didn’t have the money to pay for activities for our kids. Sharon kept telling us about the YMCA and  the benefits activities there could have for our family, so we agreed to meet with a Y staff member.

When we met Sue, who was at that time the General Manager of Crowfoot YMCA, we were overwhelmed. It is very humbling to share your entire story and financial situation with a complete stranger, but Sue was amazing. She was non-judgmental and compassionate and explained how the YMCA could subsidize the fees for us so our children could participate in programs and activities. We had memberships for our family very soon after talking with Sue.

Our involvement with the Y has done wonders for our kids. It gives Josh the opportunity to be a kid again and have consistent activities just for him. Josh and Julia, so close in age, are the best of friends and have taken science classes and cooking lessons together. Jael loves gym and swim and we swim together as a family on Saturdays.

The YMCA has become a community for us. Our kids are happy there and the staff and volunteers really care about them. Josh, Julia and Jael have been able to explore their individual interests through the YMCA. They call it “their Y”.

Julia is doing really well and is adjusting to her new leg. Her spirits are high and our family is back on track. We know this is, in a huge way, due to the caring environment at the YMCA. We’re so thankful for all the Y has done for our children.