A 16-year-old Ponoka teen and her family have had to deal with a life-changing event that has set in motion strong community support.
Emily Jeffery, a student at the Ponoka Composite High School (PCHS) was diagnosed almost one year ago with fibroblastic osteosarcoma, the same type of cancer that Terry Fox had. She was helping her father move some calves when she had pain in her wrist.
“We were carrying a calf…And Em said to me, ‘Dad I’ve gotta set this guy down, my arm hurts,’” explained father Dan Jeffery.
They did not waste much time though and brought Emily to Dr. Robert Halse who immediately noticed swelling in her wrist. Mom, Doddi Jeffery could see from X-rays there were cysts in the bone. Initially specialists felt they were benign but a study of the samples showed cancer.
“That’s when we started doing our stuff,” explained Mrs. Jeffery.
Within a few days of being diagnosed she was in the Stollery Children’s Hospital. Mr. Jeffery feels if there are any issues people should get them checked out. “You only realize what we’ve got in the Stollery until you’re in the Stollery.”
Emily had surgery in December and they hoped most of the cancer was removed but there is still a large amount there.
Since then, youths at PCHS have shown their support by shaving their heads and raising funds to help the family with their expenses. This is not something the Jefferys are used to. They prefer to stay out of the spotlight; being a part of the community that is now rallying behind them has changed everything.
Fundraising at PCHS was entirely organized by students who wanted to support Emily in her therapy. A 4-H fundraiser was organized by Laurie Montgomery with much support from the youth members. “It’s a story of hope. It’s a story of giving back to your community.”
Mrs. Jeffrey has Multiple Sclerosis and that has created other challenges for them.
4-H clubs held the fundraiser for the family April 3 at the Kinsmen Community Centre and Mr. Jeffrey has been at a loss for words. The youths especially have inspired him. “It’s blowing us away.”
He feels young people are not usually recognized for the positive things they do.
“They wanted to do this to respect my daughter and you know what? That is cool, that is really cool … Powerful!” said Mr. Jeffery.
Mrs. Jeffery has been overwhelmed by the experience; friends from church and people they have done business with have shown their support.
Emily is the youngest of three kids and is quite mature for her age, explained Mr. Jeffery. Being on a farm is something she has always enjoyed and whenever she gets a chance she will check on her animals.
“Anyone that has met Emily will know she’s extremely good at what we do, which is calving out cows,” he said.
The challenge she faces is dealing with the extension of her therapy. Initially the family had expected a certain completion date with treatment but there will now be another three or four months. They travel to the Stollery Children’s Hospital and the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre and anyone who comes to visit must be in hospital gowns. Mr. Jeffery feels Emily has a solid outlook on what she has to do to get better.
The last time Emily came home the first thing she wanted to do was see how well her cows were doing. Calving is something she loves, said her dad and she wanted to take care of her cows by tagging their ears.
“The cool thing for me, as a father was that girl wanted to do her own tags. And you know what I thought? You go girl,” said Mr. Jeffery.
If chemotherapy and pill treatments go well, then Emily will have three to four months before treatment is complete. “They’re testing every week … If the tests aren’t positive then they add more time and more drugs.”
Despite the trials, the family is taking one week at a time but Mr. Jeffery feels these fundraisers would not happen in larger cities. He is proud of the care physicians and nurses have provided Emily — from the first diagnosis to the present day.
Mrs. Jeffery is grateful for the support she has from her church friends. “There’s oodles of people praying for us…I draw my faith from the Lord and that’s how it is for me.”
“This is small town Alberta … The thing that has just blown me away is how both with the high school and with this (4-H fundraiser) is the young people that have stepped up,” added Mr. Jeffery.