What can a 12-year-old girl do about cancer?
If she’s McKenna Modler of Lansdowne, she can drag it by the seat of its pants out into the open where it’s not so scary. She can inspire people young and old by her own unflinching battle with a brain tumour. And she can raise thousands of dollars to help families just like hers who are committing everything they have to help their child beat cancer.
On July 29, with a small army of volunteers, McKenna raised over $96,000 and counting for the Children’s Cancer Fund at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario at Kingston General Hospital. McKenna’s Dream, a day-long fundraiser held at the Lansdowne fairgrounds, was the culmination of months of work by an organizing committee of over 30 friends and family, all inspired by McKenna’s desire to help other children with cancer.
McKenna, daughter of sixth generation farmer Scott Modler and his wife, Erin, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2010, less than a year after her grandmother had died of brain cancer. McKenna’s slow-growing low grade glioma cannot be surgically removed because of its location close to her pituitary gland. Over the past two years, McKenna has had more than 70 chemotherapy treatments at Kingston General Hospital, two surgeries on the shunt in her brain, one in Kingston and one at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and MRI scans in Toronto every three months.
She knows the financial and emotional toll it has taken on her own family, but didn’t realize how difficult it could be until she began meeting other children and their families during visits to the Cancer Centre. "I never imagined it was that bad for them," she said. "It’s really sad."
When a child is diagnosed with cancer, explained Scott, one parent usually ends up quitting his or her job. "You’re in and out of hospital, it’s almost impossible to work and go to all of the appointments, so right away your income is cut in half or by a third. On top of that, there’s parking at the hospital, eating in the cafeteria . . . it’s really hard on families.
"I’m lucky I’ve got my dad and brother helping out on the farm, but it has been hard on them too."
McKenna has always wanted to do something to help, Scott said. "When she was going through her treatment and seeing new kids coming in, talking to others . . . she wanted to help out. I said we would do something after her treatments.
"We started asking family and friends and it got really big, really fast."
McKenna had her last chemotherapy treatment in March and soon afterwards a committee formed to organize the fundraiser for the Cancer Centre. Within days donations of cash, offers of help, and items for the live and silent auctions began pouring in. On the morning of the event, McKenna’s Dream had already raised over $24,000. The live and silent auctions, which included everything from a homemade rhubarb pie to 10 straws of bull semen each from Comestar Lauthority, Crackholm Fever and Pine-Tree SID-ET donated by East-Gen, netted over $38,000. Jewellery made by McKenna and friends brought in $1,200.
"We were hoping to raise maybe $5,000," admitted Scott. "This has been the highlight of her life so far."
The Children’s Cancer Fund helps families cover the cost of medication, travel and accommodations, and tutoring for children who miss a lot of school.
"Your gift is an inspiration," said Leslee Thompson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Kingston General Hospital, during a cheque presentation on August 1. "Not only because it’s an incredible amount of money, but because it is an inspiration that will continue for years to come because of your passion, your dedication and your belief that you can make a difference."
"You have inspired others and for that we are better people," said Elia Anagnostopoulos, chair of the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation. "You certainly dream big!"
"I think people supported this because they know what I’ve been going through and it’s a good cause," said McKenna. "But I never expected this!"
"It’s really neat how the community has come together," said Scott. "It really makes you appreciate your county and your community.
"I just wish that everybody could experience the good stuff, without going through the bad stuff."
Scott, who misses the mornings when his early-bird daughter would join him in the barn and they would just sit and talk, said his daughter has inspired him too.
"When I was young, Terry Fox had a dream that changed the world. McKenna had a dream that may not change the world, but has inspired change in her world and in all who have come in contact with her, in her goal of helping others."
McKenna’s Dream continues. To make a donation, contact Erin or Scott Modler by email at email@example.com or call Jo-Anne Neilson at 613-532-9536. Donations to McKenna’s Dream can also be made to the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation at www.uhkf.ca.
On August 17 at the South Mountain Fair, a pink demolition derby car that has been used to collect messages about cancer will be crushed, and the proceeds will be given to McKenna’s Dream. And on September 30, Gananoque Boat Lines will donate proceeds from an entire cruise to McKenna’s Dream. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for children and are available from Jo-Anne Neilson.