In our modern day world, time is a luxury. Families who are cared for by Canuck Place understand the value of precious moments.
The clinical team at Canuck Place supports families and their children with life-threatening illnesses to make the most of the time they have left and offers choices for where those memories are made. Alejandro Angel, lovingly known as Alejo, had a full head of dark, thick hair. His parents, Erin and Federico, described him as an old soul in a little body. Alejo was the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and he was deeply loved and cherished. At just two weeks old, Alejo was diagnosed with a rare cancer presenting as a soft tissue malignant tumour.
The trajectory of Alejo’s cancer was rapid. His life expectancy went from one year to a couple of weeks with one devastating X-ray result. This was when Erin and Federico were introduced to Canuck Place.
“Canuck Place nurse practitioner Rachel was present at BC Children’s Hospital when were given the diagnosis that our son had an incurable cancer that was in every cell of his body,” Erin says. “We didn’t know at that point how important Canuck Place was going to be to us.”
Canuck Place is there with loving care for families when and where they need it. At this stage in Alejo’s diagnosis, Erin and Federico were given the option to move into the Vancouver hospice, providing an opportunity for rest, for renewal and to spend precious time together. The COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, and Erin and Federico knew visits from extended family would be challenging. They decided to stay home with Alejo, where they could be surrounded by friends and family.
The Angel family were able to make precious memories together at home, while caring for Alejo, thanks to the Enhanced Community Care Program. While utilizing this program, families can receive specialized care from Canuck Place nurse practitioners through home visits. The program enhances a family’s independence and offers them a choice for the place of care and end-of-life.
Canuck Place nurse practitioner Rachel and clinical nurse specialist Nadine ensured the Angels were well cared for at home by providing equipment and medications to keep Alejo comfortable, and the guidance they needed to navigate the final weeks of his life. But most of all, Canuck Place allowed the Angels to feel supported and validated with every decision they made.
We were tossed into the darkest place possible, and Canuck Place surrounded us like a warm blanket that lifted us up and helped guide us through the storm.
“We chose to be at home so we could maximize Alejo’s life through what we felt was important — full access to our family and the opportunity to go on outings.”
Another part of the community care available to all Canuck Place families is access to the 24-Hour Clinical Care Line, a call line for families to receive advice from specialized nurses.
“The call line gave us peace of mind that we had a lifeline. Someone to reach out to with any question or concern — without feeling bothersome,” says Federico.
The final time the Angel family called the 24-Hour-Clinical Care Line was the day Alejo passed away, just five short weeks after he came into the world. Alejo was wrapped in his parent’s arms and surrounded by love. His grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents came to be by their side. This was possible because of their in-home care.
Care for Canuck Place families starts at diagnosis and continues through the illness and well beyond the death of a child with grief and bereavement counselling. Canuck Place counsellor Mary Coleman is an integral part of Erin and Federico’s healing journey, providing a space for them to heal as well as their family.
“We were blessed to be paired with our counsellor Mary after Alejo’s passing,” Erin says.
We were lost in a storm, and she taught us how to navigate the waves.
A child’s care plan is completely individualized at Canuck Place, and incorporates the family’s wishes and goals. For many families, being at home is key to surviving unimaginable circumstances. It’s a place where they feel comfortable, and a familiar place where they can surround their child with love and affection.
“Unlike hospitals, Canuck Place isn’t about your child’s diagnosis or illness,” Erin explains.
“It’s about giving you the ability to be present with your child and family. Canuck Place floats in and makes the impossible seem effortless and removes certain stressors so you can be a family and focus on building memories together.”
Erin and Federico lovingly share that Alejo gave them the greatest gift. He made them parents. Bringing depth and richness into their lives. His short life is remembered fondly, and is even memorialized with small silver pendants made with Canuck Place that have Alejo’s tiny footprint — adoringly worn by each of his grandmothers.
For families whose time is short, Canuck Place allows them to focus on the quality of the time, rather than the quantity. But not without donor support. Donations give families the gift of time. To help Canuck Place care for families like the Angels, give today at canuckplace.org.
A version of this story appeared in the Vancouver Sun on September 23, 2022.