They say it takes a village to raise a child and there is no greater need for a village’s worth of love than when that child becomes ill.
Days after his sixth birthday and just before Christmas, Kai Hennessey’s days went from staging Pokeman battles and enjoying his kindergarten classes at Deep Cove Elementary to a flurry of chemotherapy treatments at the B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma called Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL), Kai will undergo six months to a year of treatment, with his parents Kevin and Setsu uprooted to the mainland for the duration.
“It’s definitely been a big detour from ‘normal,’” said Kevin. “He needs one of us at all times to be with him.”
“It’s been challenging, but with all the unbelievable support … we’ve settled into a good routine, and are actually really enjoying all the time together.”
That support has come from family and friends, but also from Kevin’s employers, the community, the staff at the hospital, and even complete strangers, he said.
Shelly Andrews, a friend of the family whose son had started kindergarten with Kai last fall, said the diagnosis was a shock.
“The Wednesday night, we were celebrating his birthday at my house and we had no idea that in two days he’d be airlifted to the hospital,” she said. “(It) shook our family, the school and anybody that has ever come into contact with this sweet, loving and kind little boy.”
Andrews was moved to pull the community together to support the Hennesseys.
“I think this is the time that friends and family have to rally and hold them up while they’re busy trying to help their son,” she said.
A group of moms got together and started talking to the principal at Deep Cove Elementary. Soon, the “We Love Kai” day was born.
The entire school, students, teachers and parents, came together Feb. 12 to raise money through a bake sale and pledges toward a head shaving event.
Four teachers, two men and two women, and 23 students went under the razor to shave their heads. Sabhai Thai also donated lunch to the school for teachers to purchase and donated the proceeds from a benefit luncheon they held the next day.
“Kai and Setsu were able to attend virtually via Skype, which was amazing!” said Kevin, who was able to sneak over to the event and get his own head shaved. “When Kai showed up, projected on the gym wall, everyone went wild. There were more smiles and hugs than I could keep track of, and Kai was so so so happy to see all his friends.”
“When his smiling face showed up on that screen, the entire gym, full of students, teachers and parents, broke out in cheers,” added Andrews. “It was an emotional day, but a very happy day as well.”
The ‘village’ came through with flying colours and raised more than $10,000 for the Hennesseys.
Andrews and her husband, owners of Nu-View Homes, also sent out an email campaign to their past and present clients and suppliers and raised over $2,000 from local businesses, dentists, lawyers and residents.
Andrews is currently working on organizing a bottle drive and silent auction to continue the support for the Hennesseys.
“If we can relieve the financial burden to them, then they can focus on helping Kai get healthy and they can be present during his recovery journey,” she said.
For his part, Kai is doing well, said Kevin.
“He has such an amazingly positive soul. He was more concerned about how hard the nurses were working than he was about all the tubes hanging off of him,” he said.
Kai gets five days of chemo with seven different drugs, and then 16 days off in between rounds to recover.
“He handles the drugs very well, and he humbles me with his 900 per cent positive attitude daily,” said Kevin.
“We decided from the start to tell him he has a Pokeman battle going on in his body … and Setsu drew a good Pokeman character for each chemo drug he has, each with its own special powers, and the bad Pokeman are the cancer cells.”
Kai actually gets excited for his next “battle,” said Kevin.
The Hennessey family has been “completely blown away” by the awe-inspiring outpouring of support from the Sidney community and specifically Deep Cove Elementary School, he continued.
“Every single one of them are my heroes. Sidney really showed us what community means. I don’t even know how to describe how appreciative we are,” he said.
For more information or to donate, visit www.gofundme.com/j42gsk.