It’s been three weeks since I first stepped foot on Granville Island in Vancouver, which subsequently led to my introduction to the music of Andrew Christopher. I honestly can’t believe it’s been that long since I was in VanCity. This past month had me in a travel whirlwind, but it feels like it was only a few days ago that I first heard Andrew perform. What started as me taking pictures of this musician who I thought was just another busker (albeit an incredibly talented busker), to me recording a video of him playing one of my favourite songs with the intention of including it on this blog, to me dropping him my business card in order to chat about his band and music (yay Canadian indie bands!), had ultimately led me to discover that aside from his music, Andrew has quite the journey ahead of him.
I mentioned in a post from October 23 that this gentleman has a story to tell and I promised to dedicate a post to this story in order to support his cause. Now that I’ve returned from my trip out West and I’m back in my routine in Toronto, I finally have the chance to share with you all the incredible story of Andrew’s little girls — his daughter and step-daughter, Lilee-Jean and Jaidyn.
Meet Andrew’s daughter, Lilee-Jean…
Lilee-Jean (LJ) is now 23 months old and will be celebrating her second birthday on December 5, 2012. At the young age of only ten months, LJ was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme — the most common and aggressive form of malignant brain tumor found in adults, but something that is very rare in children. So rare in fact that LJ’s family doesn’t have a real prognosis for her. LJ’s tumor is now about 4cm by 6cm in size and is inoperable because of its position within her brain. Radiation is not an option because of how young she is – as LJ is still developing, radiation is very dangerous and can be detrimental to her development. As a result, Andrew and LJ’s mother, Chelsey, turned to high-dose chemotherapy treatments, but have since moved to low-dose chemo in an effort to keep the tumor at bay until she is old enough to undergo radiation. Despite her battle with cancer, LJ has chosen to keep smiling, playing and fighting all on her own. Because she was so young when she was diagnosed, this battle is all she has ever known. According to Andrew: “I really think being cooped up in a hospital for so long made her appreciate having space and being able to run around. She never wants to stop moving and always wants to get outside — rain, snow, or shine!”
And now, meet Andrew’s step-daughter, Jaidyn…
Jaidyn is now four and a half years old (and apparently likes to stress the “half” part of her age 😉 ). On August 11, 2011 at only three years of age, Jaidyn was diagnosed with Pre-B Triple Trisomy Acute Lymphoblasitc Leukemia (cancer of the white blood cells). Treatment for Jaidyn will last a total of two and a half years, of which she is currently in the maintenance phase which will continue for the next year. She has been taking oral chemotherapy every day along with preventative antibiotics through a Vascular Access device – a device that has been inserted into her body to ensure the delivery of intravenous therapy. Once a month she goes in for higher dose chemotherapy through her device, plus also has to endure lumbar punctures every three months in order to inject the therapy directly into her spinal fluid. Jaidyn has a strong will and fights her battle with a determined stubbornness. She always has a smile on her face and has learned to find the positive in everything. Despite this determination, however, the cancer and its treatment have greatly affected her. She’s still in her developmental years and at such a crucial stage in her life, so regular developments such as potty training, manners and coping skills have seen a regression. At one point she was also on high-dose steroids which caused severe mood swings and irrationalness. Thankfully things have started to fall back into place and her behavior is improving. She even plays doctor and performs lumbar punctures on her dolls, and has learned to help LJ take her medicine.
Over the past year Andrew has struggled emotionally, physically and mentally. After LJ was diagnosed Andrew stopped working in order to live at the hospital. His relationship with LJ’s mother fell apart and his own personal health was put on the back burner, resulting in a weight gain of about twenty pounds in only a few months. After months of non-stop attention on LJ, Andrew decided to get his health back in order to be able to better support his daughter, losing the weight and becoming more centered.
Pardon My Striptease, the band that Andrew is a part of, decided to release a song that he had wrote called Pray (for LJ). Andrew and LJ’s mother, Chelsey, had decided to donate 100% of proceeds made from sales of Pray to the BC Children’s Hospital. Eventually the song started to gain a lot of ground on the iTunes charts, inspiring Andrew to come up with a creative fundraising idea. Using social media, he made a public challenge to Nickelback, who at the time held the No. 1 song spot on iTunes – if Pardon My Striptease took the No. 1 spot away from them, they had to at least match PMS’ donation of song sales to the hospital. The media eventually caught wind of the story and a few days later Nickelback issued a press release stating they would not only donate $50,000 to the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, but their publishing company Warner/Chapel would also match the band’s donation. In addition to Nickelback’s collective $100,000 donation, Pray (for LJ) raised almost $10,000 on iTunes. On December 9, 2011 it became the most downloaded song in Canada and even made the top 20 on the Canadian Billboard charts.
Through his fundraising efforts, Andrew met Jaime, Jaidyn’s mother. Jaime had contacted Andrew to thank him for supporting the children’s hospital where Jaidyn was also a patient. The two developed a support system to help each other in their own fights, and eventually Andrew, Jaime, and the two girls became one family.
Through this time, Andrew’s music has acted as an emotional outlet. He’s been writing more songs than ever and began busking to help release some of the tension and emotion that he has had to deal with: “While I’m out there playing and singing I can be as loud, quiet, crazy or calm as I want. There is such a mix of people who see me that someone is bound to appreciate whatever emotion I am portraying at the time.” He has also used his music, and music in general, to help the girls cope with their cancer. They sing and dance every day, and on days when they’re hurting or upset he uses a simple song or two to help them calm down.
Andrew’s band mates in PMS (Dylan on drums, Adam on bass, Erron on lead guitar and Brenden on second guitar), have also been very supportive through the cancer fight, offering a hiatus from rehearsing and playing to allow Andrew and his family some time to deal with treatments and hospital stays. Although they had found much success with Pray (for LJ), the band’s career had to be put on the back burner over the past year, something which Andrew will never forget: “They’re my best friends and I wish more than anything I could help give them the careers in music they deserve.”
I asked Andrew if they had formed any special bonds with the doctors involved or if there was anyone they’d like to thank for helping out his family during these tough times. Here’s what he had to say:
“We would like to thank our families and the friends who have provided amazing support to us through this last year. It’s pretty much just as hard on them as it is on us, and yet they still have the job to make sure WE are doing ok. So, thank you! The team of doctors for both girls has been amazing. Specifically Lilee’s doctor, Dr. Jeff Davis, and her surgeon Dr. Ash Singhal. Jaidyn’s doctor, Dr. Rod Rassekh and the the incredibly supportive nurses in the oncology clinic. All of the nurses have been amazing but we have formed special connections with Kristy, Nadine, Suzanne, and Danielle. Also, Andrea, one of the social workers, Christina the Child Life Specialist and Jaidyn’s favourite volunteer, Jackie.”
“Lilee and Jaidyn keep us strong, humble, and happy. We know now to enjoy EVERY single second we have with each of them. If they can be going through all this and still smile, play, sing and dance, then who are we to complain and feel sorry for ourselves. Of course we have bad days – really, REALLY bad days — but we just keep in mind that its nothing compared to what they are going through and we draw our strength and courage from them.”
Lilee is the same age as my niece. I couldn’t imagine being able to deal with something like this if it were to happen to my baby girl. The determination and courage that is needed not only by these little girls but by their parents is incredible, and the fact that they continue to push forward with brave faces for their babies just proves that the bond between parent and child is one that can be stronger than all others.
On the day that I went to Granville Island I was supposed to take part in a whale watching tour that was ultimately cancelled due to inclimate weather. Although I was bummed about not being able to see whales in the wild, in the end I’m thankful that Mother Nature was having a hissy fit that day. If I did go on that tour I would have missed the chance to meet Andrew and find out about his little girls. You can’t trade that. I honestly feel that it was serendipitous. I was meant to be on Granville Island that day instead so I can run into Andrew, hear his music and find out about LJ and Jaidyn. Those two little girls need all the support they can get right now, and being able to write about them and share their stories with all of you makes me feel like this blog has a purpose. Please help support these girls and their families as much as you can. I’ve included a list of links below so you all can find out more about Lilee-Jean, Jaidyn, Andrew and Pardon My Striptease. Please take a moment to check out these links and send them some love.