A family that has spent years giving back to the community needs a helping hand after the husband was diagnosed with acute leukaemia less than two months ago.
At the beginning of the year, Joe Lepage, a self-employed welder in Smithers and avid camper and fisher, went to the doctor because he was experiencing flu-like symptoms, including night sweats.
The 47-year-old was preparing to go to a job in Stewart when his wife Kathy encouraged him to get a physical checkup.
“[I was] thinking the doctor would just give him a lecture and tell him to quit smoking and he’d go off to camp with his nicotine patch or his prescription and he’d come home in a month and he would have quit smoking,” said Kathy, who has worked with the Friendship Centre as a counsellor and at the Broadway Place emergency shelter in the past.
“We got a call from our doctor saying Joe had to pack a bag and be prepared to stay overnight as he had an appointment at Vancouver General Hospital.
“He said ‘What are you talking about, you have the wrong phone number’ and she said ‘No, I don’t, we’re trying to rule out leukaemia’.”
The next day Joe was flown to Vancouver General Hospital and was diagnosed with acute leukaemia.
“I was in shock. [Joe] was on the phone with the doctor. Shock went through my mind and body. I thought this was surreal, this isn’t happening,” said Kathy.
“I thought they would rule out leukaemia and he’ll come home.”
Over the past seven weeks, Joe has received treatment at VGH. He has already undergone two rounds of chemotherapy and will receive three more rounds over the coming months, depending on his health.
Kathy, who must stay with Joe as his caregiver, has been living in a trailer that she borrowed from a family member.
They must remain in Vancouver for at least six months to receive care. But Kathy remains optimistic.
“We’re hoping to be home for the summer,” she said.
Her son has returned to Smithers from the coast to take care of the family’s house.
“My son has taken responsibility for the family, which he needed to,” said Kathy.
Their daughter’s future remains unclear.
Since she just started her first year at Simon Fraser University, she is unsure if she should continue with school or come home to help the family.
To make matters worse, because Joe is self-employed, there are no work benefits available to him.
To help ease the financial burden, Joe’s step-sister Tanya Andersen has set up a Facebook auction and online fundraiser to help raise money for the family.
“Joe is fun, he likes the outdoors, he’s got a great sense of humour and likes to laugh,” said Andersen.
“It’s a lot of financial burden and it would be better if Joe would focus his attention on healing than worrying. If you’re worried about losing your house, it’s harder to get healthy and focus your energy where you need it.”
So far, they’ve raised more than $7,000 from the Facebook auction and the website. Their goal is $15,000. The money raised will go towards paying bills in Smithers and the Lower Mainland and the cost of prescriptions.
“I’m overwhelmed with the people who have stepped up and the people who have stepped up that I didn’t expect to. That’s overwhelming for us,” said Kathy.
Andersen hopes Joe’s experience will encourage others to get regular checkups as well.
“Get checkups regularly. If he hadn’t had his checkup and figured it out, he’d probably be dead right now,” she said.
To donate, visit the Facebook page Joe Lepage Cancer fundraiser or email Andersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.