Although Henry Down is just 19 months old, he has caught the attention of several local restaurants. No, Henry is not a budding chef, or waiter with five-star service — he is a lively little boy who has been struck by cancer.
“This is an absolute nightmare” said Lori Orr, a close friend of the Down family. “Once I got a grip on myself from the shock … It’s a parent’s worst fear, having a child with cancer. I felt helpless… they’ve had their life uprooted and moved to Vancouver.” So Orr charged into action. “I called his sister and made sure no one had started a trust account yet, then I ran up to the bank and opened one.”
Henry and his parents live on Pender Island, but both were raised in Sidney. Henry’s dad Jo is well-known, having worked at many area restaurants. That is why three, the Prairie Inn, Mary’s Bleue Moon and Bleue Coyote, have banded together to help Henry fight the battle of a lifetime.
Just last week Henry was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver with a diagnosis of Neuroblastoma. His parents are there too, supporting their little guy through chemotherapy.
“Originally they said they were 97 per cent sure the cancer was Neuroblastoma,” said Jo Down on the phone from Children’s Hospital. “It had all the earmarks of it. When the biopsy results came in they pulled back from that.” Henry’s diagnosis has changed to that of a germ cell tumour. “He had a 14 centimetre long tumour that they said was stage four — that’s the highest stage it can be. It had spread to different parts of his body, the lungs, liver, and was pressing on the base of his spine putting pressure on the nerves of his left leg,” said Down. Treatment includes four to five rounds of chemotherapy, surgery to remove some of the tumour on his spine that should occur around Christmas, and then another four to five rounds of chemotherapy.
“This is more compelling and positive than the original possible diagnosis,” said Down. “There’s lots more hope, it’s more positive, more treatable. They have a gold standard of treatment for this type of cancer.” But still, “my little guy has cancer. That’s hard to say.”
Word of Henry’s illness spread quickly through the small Peninsula community and people popped out of the woodwork to help.
This Saturday (Aug. 27) Mary’s Bleue Moon will donate 10 per cent of all sales that day to Henry. The Prairie Inn and Bleue Coyote will both donate 10 per cent of all food sales, and the Prairie Inn will also host a silent auction from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. to help raise money to support the Down family through this tough time.
Henry will get support from an unexpected source as well. “When I heard, I called Tour de Rock rider Sandi Swanson, she’s with the RCMP, and right away she said she’ll dedicate her ride to Henry,” said local Tour de Rock fundraising coordinator Julie Harman.
“We have no plan for our future now. It’s just one test at a time, one treatment at a time, once breakfast, one lunch, one dinner at a time … it’s mostly my wonderful wife (Alix) who bears the brunt of the responsibility being with Henry 24/7. We’ve had some wonderful emails, letters and visits,” said Down who is humbled by the response to Henry’s illness.
“Jo’s the general manager of Port Browning Marina,” said Orr. “So he has to take double ferries back and forth. A lot of people don’t realize that even Ronald McDonald House charges $25 a day. You have to eat out. It’s like being on a vacation, only not a very good vacation. Expenses start to add up fast.”
“I think we’ll be okay. We’ve been careful with our money, but the long term cost of an illness like this starts to add up,” Down said. “We’ve only been here eight days now and I’m thinking ‘so, here we are going to Starbucks or Second Cup again.’”
Orr said she has had an overwhelming response to the silent auction with items donated from several local businesses. “I cried the other day there are so many people giving, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
“We are humbled,” said Down. “So many people have come forward with generous donations … I asked Lori to keep a list because it’s important for me to thank each person individually. But if I have the opportunity now to say from me and my family, and my extended family, to everyone who has extended their heart to us, we acknowledge and appreciate it. If you see me give me a hug or shake my hand, don’t be afraid … it’s at times like these that we need hugs or for people to kiss us on the forehead and tell us it’ll be okay.
“Offer to buy me a beer on Saturday and I’ll say okay,” Down said with a laugh.
“We’re really humbled by the freight train of emotion, the love and care of our amazing family and friends, the caring souls we only partly, negligibly know. Even people we’ve met only once, banding together who said ‘we need to do something nice for this family,” said Down.
For more on the fundraiser check out the Facebook event “Fund Raiser for “The Down Family”” and to keep up with Henry’s progress join the Facebook group “I love Henry down”. Donations to the Down family may be made to Island Savings 809, Brentwood Bay Branch 20000 #2174233.