The right spirit keeps these people from being crushed by circumstance


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44Maybe you're grateful you have a job, a home and a family. You might be celebrating the chance to gather with friends or for the joy of mom's pumpkin pie.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/10/2009 (4865 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

44Maybe you’re grateful you have a job, a home and a family. You might be celebrating the chance to gather with friends or for the joy of mom’s pumpkin pie.

On a weekend when many of us reflect on our blessings, we caught up with three Winnipeggers who have specific reasons to give thanks this year.

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At first blush, 2009 didn’t give Frann Martins much reason for gratitude.

Her house caught fire April 1, destroying the kitchen, torching other parts of the house and claiming the majority of her family’s possessions.

She and her family ended up in a hotel with just the clothes on their backs.

"I was feeling very sorry for myself because we’d lost so much," the 46-year-old nurse says. "I was literally sitting in a hotel room and thinking I was in such bad shape."

She snapped out of it.

"Nobody got hurt. My life isn’t so bad. There are a lot of people who have it bad all the time. Insurance was going to take care of things.

"I thought ‘Gosh, I am so lucky. Who cares that I don’t have a house? I can go to the store and buy food. I have a job to go to. My life isn’t so bad."

She and her family are still living in a trailer in the driveway of their Tuxedo house.

"My neighbours all tease me. ‘When are the hillbillies going to leave?’ "

Martins has taken her wake-up call and put it to good use. She established Feeding the Hunger — Winnipeg Rocks for Harvest, a one-night fundraiser for the food bank. Three bands performed Saturday night. The $10 ticket price and donations from sponsors went to buy food for the needy.

"I didn’t really understand need before this," says Martins. "I’m glad I was able to realize just how lucky I really am."

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The last time we spoke, Kendra McBain was 17, a student at St. John’s Ravenscourt and a young woman fighting cancer.

"I’ve lost that kind of carefree attitude that most teenagers have where they don’t worry about anything," she said back in May. "I’m very conscious that life and good health aren’t a given."

She has rabdomyosarcoma, a cancer rare enough that only 100 cases have been diagnosed in North America and New Zealand in the past six years. In the first year of her illness, she had 12 rounds of chemotherapy, major surgery and 20 sessions of radiation.

Despite her losses, everything from her hair to a teenager’s right to feel immortal, Kendra was a fighter. She decided to hold Kendra’s Walk for Kids, a fundraiser for CancerCare Manitoba. She wanted to give back to an organization that helped her survive.

The money she raised would go to a room specifically dedicated to teens undergoing therapy.

I emailed Tammy McBain, Kendra’s mother, to ask for an update. Would Kendra be willing to share a story of thanksgiving, I asked.

Tammy told me two things. First, Tuesday was Kendra’s 18th birthday and she was planning a blow-out party. Second, the cancer was back bigger and worse than ever.

"Lately Kendra has been experiencing headaches and a pressure behind her right eye," she wrote. "One could put this down to past bad news, the start of school, the change of weather or just general stress, but because Kendra has cancer one has to think beyond what one might normally dismiss."

They couldn’t dismiss this. There was a tumour in the muscle behind Kendra’s right eye. She now has three distinct cancer sites: A tumour in her bone marrow, a tumour on the left area of her lung and the tumour behind her eye.

She will have gamma knife surgery on Oct. 15.

"The past week has been filled with tears and anger," Tammy McBain wrote. "And while Kendra is prepared to make end-of-life decisions she is also determined to continue to fight. Buying time is only a part of that. She is making decisions to carry on and live life."

I sent Tammy a quick note of apology and said I understood that Kendra wouldn’t have anything to add to the story.

My phone rang the next day. It was the freshly minted 18-year-old.

"This wasn’t the greatest news but you have to deal with it," she said. "Whenever I get to make my wish, I choose happiness first and then health.

"It may be a short and happy life. I love my life. I always remember that."

Her walk raised $130,000, enough money to refurbish the teens’ room and to help with some programming. She’s thankful for that. She is also glad that her illness has helped her put her life into perspective.

"Everyone should think about what’s important to them," she said. "Little material things still excite me but when you get right down to it, ask yourself what’s really important. In many ways. I’m very lucky."

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Stuart Thickson is also in the fight of his life.

He has acute myeloid leukemia. His best shot at survival is a bone marrow transplant.

When we met, a fundraising social for Thickson and his family was in the works. One of the highlights was going to be a reunion of the kids who played the Von Trapp kids in Rainbow Stage’s The Sound of Music.

Thickson’s daughter Abbey played Gretl.

He lost his job shortly before his diagnosis.

So the fundraiser was held, the kids performed and thousands of dollars were raised. That’s the first thing for which he’s thankful. Thickson was too ill to attend the social but he saw a video.

"It was overwhelming. There was a real outpouring of support. People sent us money in an envelope. Complete strangers would bring us food or grocery coupons."

The second thing for which he’s thankful?

Stuart Thickson is having a bone marrow transplant on Monday. "I’m thankful I’ve got to spend this time with my family and hopefully I’ll be able to spend a little more time with them because of the bone marrow registry."

Thickson is particularly thankful for the stranger who donated the marrow that may well save his life.

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I am thankful for my family, my friends and my health. I’m grateful I have a job I enjoy and the means to provide for my children.

I am also very thankful I haven’t had to face the challenges of Frann Martins, Kendra McBain and Stuart Thickson.

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