Whitehorse fundraiser supports blood cancer research

Carol Deuling doesn't have a bucket list. She's never been the type of person to put things off, to wait until retirement to do what she wants. She's travelled a lot, and worked part-time for many years.

Carol Deuling doesn’t have a bucket list. She’s never been the type of person to put things off, to wait until retirement to do what she wants.

She’s travelled a lot, and worked part-time for many years. She took every fifth year off work, and spent a while living as a ski bum.

“I’ve always tried to live life to the fullest,” she explained.

So when Deuling was diagnosed in 2010 with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer, she was able to tell her nurse that she was OK. There wasn’t anything she still had a burning desire to do that she hadn’t already done.

Five years later, Deuling still goes hiking. She still attends fitness classes at the Canada Games Centre every week, though she can’t lift as much weight as she used to. She’s energetic, and looks younger than her 63 years.

And now, she’s busy going door-to-door to Whitehorse’s small businesses, asking them to donate prizes for a silent auction that will be part of a fundraiser on Thursday evening for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada.

There are currently about 100,000 Canadians living with leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma, the major types of blood cancers. Together, leukemia and lymphoma account for almost half of childhood cancers.

Multiple myeloma, the illness that Deuling is fighting, is a cancer of the plasma cells in the blood. Over time, abnormal plasma cells build up in the bone marrow, and often lead to infection, fragile bones, and kidney failure. Many patients don’t survive longer than five years with the disease.

Back in 2010, it was the pain in her bones that drove Deuling to seek out medical attention. She was flown from Whitehorse to the Vancouver General Hospital, where she learned she had cancer, and that the disease had caused several fractures in her spine. She spent four months in Vancouver, where she underwent chemotherapy and had a stem-cell transplant to slow the illness’s progression.

When she came back to Whitehorse in April 2010, it took a while for her to get back on her feet. She was on heavy painkillers for several months, and had to get used to not going to work.

But by the next summer, she was hiking again.

“That’s what got me into shape,” she said. “I was bound and determined.”

She started going to classes at the Canada Games Centre, which helped her spend time with friends. And she hasn’t stopped since, even after learning in October 2011 that her cancer had returned.

Since late 2011, Deuling has been taking chemotherapy drugs from her home in Whitehorse. Six weeks ago, she was told the cancer was growing, and that she’d have to start taking a stronger medication. The new medication makes her a little nauseated, but she’s still keeping up her daily routine.

“I’m living with cancer, but I don’t want it to be my focus,” she said. “I want to continue my life.”

The Yukon can be a difficult place to live with cancer. There are currently more than 130 new cancer diagnoses in the territory each year, and many patients like Deuling will require costly trips to Vancouver or other cities for treatment.

The Yukon government subsidizes those costs – Deuling’s plane tickets have been paid for, and she’s entitled to a daily stipend when she’s away. But she said the stipend often wouldn’t be enough to pay for a hotel in Vancouver.

Deuling is lucky – she used to live in Vancouver, and she has friends there. But that’s not the case for everyone.

“If I would have gone to Vancouver and not known anyone, it would have been really lonely,” she said.

Those challenges are part of the reason the Yukon Hospital Foundation established the Yukoners Cancer Care Fund in 2013. The fund, which offers one-time gifts of $1,000 to individuals and families fighting cancer, is a way of ensuring that money donated by Yukoners goes to Yukoners.

“The cancer journey is difficult and expensive and stressful,” said Harmony Hunter, manager of partnership and engagement with the Yukon Hospital Foundation. “I think it’s just really important that the community gives back to each other.”

Since 2013, the fund has raised over $50,000 and has helped 34 families.

In other ways, though, Deuling believes Whitehorse is the perfect community for people in need of support.

“It’s an amazing community,” she said. “There’s a real sense of caring for everybody. You know everybody and you want to help them any way you can.”

She said she’s received support from all corners in Whitehorse, whether it’s from neighbours who go out walking with her, or from Air North employees, who give her a special seat on her flights to and from Vancouver.

She said it’s that same spirit of giving that motivated Debbie Gohl and Shari Worsfold to put on this Thursday’s event to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada. The money will go to cancer research, to help find a cure for illnesses like Deuling’s.

Gohl and Worsfold plan to run a half-marathon in San Francisco in support of the cause.

“We need to be grateful more often for what we have,” Gohl said. “I believe in people’s generosity.”

The prizes at the silent auction will include local pottery, quilting, photography, a stone massage, and various gift certificates.

The fundraiser will take place on Oct. 1 at the Association franco-yukonnaise at 302 Strickland, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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