Walking gently

Kim generously shares her experience as an oncology mom who navigated, and in many ways continues to navigate, a childhood cancer journey.

A family photo of Kim with her husband and two sons, Jonah and Noah

The start of our journey


January 13, 2020: a date forever etched in my heart. A diagnosis of brain cancer was confirmed for my 11-year-old son Jonah. 


He had been experiencing headaches and vomiting that worsened as weeks went by. After many doctor appointments, ER visits, and pediatric neurologist consultations, our worst fear was confirmed. 


Only a week later, Jonah was getting brain surgery to remove the tumour. We learned that he had a medulloblastoma, the most common type of cancerous brain tumour in children. He then developed posterior fossa syndrome which severely affected his balance, coordination, fine motor skills, and speech. 


We were told that the best outcomes would be through proton therapy, which meant relocating to Seattle for six weeks of daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy. This all happened when COVID-19 shut down the world and Seattle was the US’s first epicenter of the outbreak. After those six weeks, we returned to Vancouver where Jonah went through a further year of chemotherapy.

How I felt back then


I remember feeling laden with grief, despair, and disbelief. I hated to be away from Jonah as I was scared something would happen to him. I felt a vulnerability I had never experienced before. I always tried to protect Jonah from my pain and sadness. Every time he couldn’t walk up the stairs, couldn’t stand up by himself, or would throw up when he ate, the pain inside was like a rock that weighed me down and I would escape alone to cry. 


I asked myself, “How do I take care of my child’s mental and physical needs, put on a brave face, but feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders?”


I worried that my other son Noah was being left out. Because of Covid, the whole family often couldn’t be together. I felt the enormous pressure to make sure Noah was also ok and safe at a time when no one wanted to come to your house. Who could we ask for help? With Covid itself, no one in the world knew what was going on. There were no answers about what it could do to a child going through treatment. It was a frightening and pressurized time.

The little things that helped


My sister was the first person to get to me after we got the diagnosis. She came straight away and looked after Noah so we could be in the hospital and he could be well cared for. She and my parents also stepped in to help after Jonah’s surgery. He had to move to Sunny Hill for rehabilitation services as he wasn’t yet able to walk. 


My friend group and community did so much. As soon as they knew of the diagnosis, a friend started a meal train and we had hot meals every day for months. They put a cooler on our front deck and quietly topped it up with meals, not even knocking on the door. There was no pressure to start a conversation.


Kim and Jonah cuddling while he was on treatment

As a family, we were in survival mode. A lot of our time was spent huddled in bed watching Parks & Recreation, watching movies, trying different flavours of ice cream, anything where we could just be together.


Doing those little cosy things made us forget for a moment what else was going on. Doing those same things now reminds me of then. Life slowed down significantly, and it allowed us to really connect.

Every time we would go into the clinic or stay overnight in the hospital, we would make use of the WCK Food in the Freezer. Jonah is a foodie and loves to eat. During chemo, when his appetite would be affected, we’d find a meal to suit him in the freezer.


The snacks gave us something consistent in our day, too – they were always there. Something as simple as that was a support to us. During treatment It could be easy to forget about myself and what I needed, so having the offer of food there from WCK always helped.

A fully stocked WCK freezer full of meals for families in hospital

What I did for myself

Jonah and Storm the dog lying together.

I would wake up before everyone else, take our dog Storm, and walk and walk and walk. Tears would come as I just walked. It was the most therapeutic thing I could do for myself. It was peaceful, Storm and I wandering amongst the trees. 


Storm was a great support for us all. We were allowed to bring him to Sunny Hill and he would just lie next to Jonah, or walk patiently by his side as Jonah got used to using his walker.

After treatment

Jonah finished treatment in the middle of 2021. We’re still in “life after treatment,” because life will never be the same. 


You never look at the world the same again, which is actually a silver lining. I really don’t take things for granted anymore. I live like anything could happen tomorrow. I feel like, as painful as the memories can be, it makes me grateful that we’re here. If today is not okay, I know that tomorrow might not be the same. I embrace that in how I interact with the world around me now.


I try to go slower in everyday life, and appreciate each moment. Just as Jonah learned to walk again, one step at a time, I realize that I walk in the world differently now, too. More gently with myself and with others.

The family going out on a forest trip

What it means to support someone


Support doesn’t take the pain away, and it doesn’t fix everything. But it does keep you going. Support is a word that’s used a lot. What do we mean by it?


I found the support through food really important. It’s such a big part of life, but we had no time to think about it. If someone can take the load off with a healthy meal, you know you can nourish your body and your family’s bodies. It’s one less thing to worry about in your day. 


Emotional support looks different for everyone. For me, it was as simple as a friend texting to check in with no expectation of anything back. I needed humour, so the friends and family that know me well would send silly gifs that would make me laugh. It really, really helped me. It gave me the motivation to laugh for a moment then move forward with the hard day in front of me. 


I didn’t want to talk that much to be honest. I was focused on surviving and getting my family through, and I knew no one could say anything that would make it better. Therapy is a different level of support, and I was helped by some sessions through BC Children’s Hospital, but I didn’t need to have those conversations with friends. 

My friend Kim took the lead as my point person for all my other friends, and I could be honest with her about what we did and didn’t need. People would contact her and she could tell them “They really need this.” It meant I didn’t have to field those questions or constantly think of suggestions.


Fresh veggies

One of the greatest things provided for us was from a neighbour of a friend, someone we didn’t even know that well. She washed, peeled, and cut up a million fresh veggies, and put them in a huge tupperware for us. I can’t tell you what a boost it was to be able to grab a healthy snack. 


Support can be so simple as a peeled carrot, or a funny gif that makes you laugh at the beginning of each day. It’s not always as complicated as we think.

Life now

I still go for a walk every day. When I walk, I get this lump in my throat – a memory of all the walks I took when Jonah was in treatment. I still feel, not the same pain, but a feeling of being right back there. It really sticks with you. The fear of it happening again is always present, whatever you do. I battle with this feeling that nobody understands. 


The treatment journey is for a finite period of time, but the impacts are lifelong. I feel sad about the losses, like the fact that Jonah doesn’t play soccer anymore. I also feel grateful that we’re here and healthy today. Jonah writes a lot and is thriving in an incredible crossfit community. I still feel positive about life. I’m grateful for every single person who walked with us, and continues to walk with us, on this journey.

Jonah in the crossfit studio

Looking forward


I hope that no child or family has to walk the floor of T8 at BC Children’s Hospital, or any other T8 in the world – perhaps through more research and funding for pediatric cancer. I don’t want any child to have to deal with these illnesses. I hope that, eventually, WCK doesn’t have to exist anymore. 


I hope for Jonah that he continues to thrive in his new body and mind, with the compassion he has for people and knowing he has accomplished and overcome so much. Whatever he chooses to do in life, I know he can walk his path, because he has already conquered so much.