A Winnipeg woman diagnosed with terminal cancer is using her final months to make the Christmas season brighter for needy families in her community.
Told she has nine months to a year to live, Jaime Webster, 41, decided to stop chemotherapy and radiation because she didn't want to spend her final days in a hospital unable to visit with her husband and two sons because of the pandemic.
Instead, the Fort Richmond resident sat down and wrote a bucket list of all the things she wants to accomplish in whatever time she has left, and the final wish on that list is this — save a neighbourhood.
Which is why, about three weeks ago, Webster used her Facebook page to launch South Winnipeg Assists Santa, a community group dedicated to creating and delivering Christmas hampers to families that are struggling to celebrate Christmas amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I wasn’t sure how to do that (save a neighbourhood) when I wrote it down," Webster confided in a phone interview from her Ryerson Avenue home.
"When I heard the Christmas Cheer Board wasn’t able to operate normally, I decided to step in and help a neighbourhood in our community.
"People say Christmas is about two things — giving and receiving. The giving part has always been my absolute favourite. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do, be kind? I think so. It just makes sense. I think the world needs more happiness right now."
"I think the world needs more happiness right now.” –Jaime Webster
For the record, talking with Webster, even over the phone, is an uplifting experience. There isn’t a hint of self-pity as she discusses using her final months to help others, and the joy she experiences from the simple act of giving is infectious. She laughs easily and frequently.
If you need proof, check out the heart-tugging motto she plastered on her garage door: "Hope will NOT be cancelled!"
Tuesday night, aided by her main elf, close friend Sharon McIlraith, and another area family, Webster will be delivering 11 hampers packed with food and an assortment of items that currently are filling two bedrooms in her Fort Richmond home.
The initial plan was for 10 hampers, but they received a last-minute plea to help a family that is struggling to make Christmas happen for their nine children. "How could you not help those people?" Webster chirped. "That would be insane!"
Her cancer journey began just over three years ago when her doctor spotted a lump on one of her breasts. In March, she began experiencing problems with her kidneys.
"I kept having recurring infections that were being treated with antibiotics," she said. "It coincided with the kickoff of COVID-19." Three months later, she received the grim news.
"They told me the cancer was in three other places — my lungs, my kidneys and my brain," she said matter-of-factly.
"They told me roughly they think I have maybe nine months to a year to live. That was in June."
Which is when she decided to stop all treatment and focus on living each day to the fullest.
"I am absolutely choosing quality of life over quantity," she said. She also shut down the home daycare she’d been running for about 21 years.
“I am absolutely choosing quality of life over quantity." –Jaime Webster
Since March, she and husband Chris — married for 16 years and together for 22 — have been working their way through items on her bucket list. "I have been doing some really fun local Manitoba things and I’ve LOVED every minute of it," she gushed.
"My bucket list has things as simple as milking a cow, and I did. Things as insane as jumping out of an airplane. I have not done that yet, but Gimli is waiting for me as soon as I can.
"I had never been to Lockport, so hubby and I strapped on backpacks and took off for the day to explore it. In Morden, we went to the drive-in theatre and saw Grease. I mean, c’mon, man, it’s iconic!"
That list also led her to get rid of her dining room table to make way for a rapidly growing library.
"I never understood the point of a dining room table," Webster, who was raised in Thompson, said. "I grew up in extreme poverty. I was lucky if there was food, let alone a table.
"So I removed our dining room table and created Belle’s Library from Beauty and the Beast in our dining room. I love to read. I think my library now has 5,000 books in it from all over the world."
That library got a huge boost when Webster issued a plea on her Facebook page asking people around the world to send copies of their favourite books. Pandemic restrictions have made completing her list more challenging, "but we’ve still found amazing things to do, all inside Manitoba."
She began work on her final wish, saving a neighbourhood, by creating the South Winnipeg Assists Santa group on her Facebook page. It was picked up by friends and family, and then she created a separate page dedicated to the project.
The hampers are overflowing with donated staples, toys, tools, cleaning products, diapers and baby formula, gifts for an entire family, blankets, clothing, bedding, and everything needed for a Christmas feast, including a certificate for a turkey or a ham or whatever the family chooses for its main course.
"They’re huge! It’s not like there’s just one toy for your child. They come with all the fixings for Christmas dinner — cranberry sauce, carrots, cookies," she said. "We’ve already delivered two Christmas trees for families that didn’t have them."
At one point, the mother of two boys — Jay, 19, and Nolan, 15 and "second momma" to others including Gabe and Dom Collette — paused before confiding: "Here’s a little secret — I'm not sorry this (terminal cancer) is happening to me. It’s creating happiness, awareness, joy and kindness — all the things I’ve strived to be in my life … It’s fun to just let go."
“Here’s a little secret ‐ I'm not sorry this is happening to me. It’s creating happiness, awareness, joy and kindness ‐ all the things I’ve strived to be in my life." –Jaime Webster
It’s allowed her to focus on what’s important — helping others and spreading Christmas joy. "My home is ridiculous," she giggled. "I went a lot of times without Christmas as a child. We have the tree up now and the crazy Christmas village. I’m a little Christmas crazy. I love Christmas. I love it!"
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McIlraith, 54, will be helping deliver the hampers Tuesday night — they’ll be wearing masks and maintaining a safe social distance. Crazy is the last word she’d use to describe a woman she's come to call "a warrior."
"Jaime is a going concern," McIlraith said, laughing. "Which means she’s just vibrant and lovely and she cares about every human she meets. If she sees somebody in need, she’s going to help. That’s Jaime.
"She’s still driving and cooking and doing all the things a normal human does. She’s a warrior! She never gives up.
"Jaime will do what Jaime does to her last minute on Earth, because that’s Jaime. That’s who she is and we love her."
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.