After many years of hard luck and financial difficulties, Paul and Veronica Vander Heiden had finally felt like they had their heads above water.
They had both landed good jobs, allowing them to refinance their home and put a large burden of debt behind them. They were finally in a position to start putting away a bit of money for saving, retirement, and a long-awaited vacation. Their daughter, Amy, had just graduated from high school and had a bright future ahead of her.
At last, everything appeared to be turning around and starting to head in the right direction for the Vander Heidens – until suddenly, the unthinkable happened.
A Terrible Surprise
Early last July, Paul began experiencing intense abdominal pain. Concerned, his family took him to the doctor to get checked out for kidney stones. The test was positive, but the bloodwork revealed something even more concerning: a seriously low platelet count.
Suspicious of this result, the doctor felt there was no time to lose. He sent Paul immediately to Royal Jubilee hospital for further testing. When the results came in, they were terrifying – Paul had cancer, and not just any cancer, but a very aggressive strain of leukemia known as AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia).
Wikipedia defines AML as “a cancer of the ‘myeloid line’ of blood cells, characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal cells that build up in the bone marrow and blood and interfere with normal blood cells.” (These cells are known as “blasts”.)
“As an acute leukemia, AML progresses rapidly and is typically fatal within weeks or months if left untreated.”
Turned Upside Down
Immediately, Paul and Veronica’s quiet life was upended. Veronica was given an hour to pack her things and join Paul on the ambulance to Vancouver General Hospital, where he was delivered to the leukemia unit for further testing and immediate treatment.
Paul was told he could not be treated in Victoria. The shellshocked couple had to put everything in their lives on hold to live in a different city, and at that point, nobody knew how long they’d have to stay.
Stunned, Veronica had to call Amy and explain where they were going and why they wouldn’t be home that night, or any night in the near future.
Meanwhile, Paul tried to wrap his head around what was happening to him. He had generally been in good health, and had not experienced any symptoms. There was no prior history of leukemia in his family.
“It was a bolt out of the blue”, says Paul, “because I was feeling fine. Just shows that this could happen to anybody.”
Since that awful day in July, Paul has endured more than he ever thought himself capable of. The first round of inpatient chemotherapy left him nauseous and exhausted. When this failed to reduce Paul’s blast (abnormal blood cell) count to the required level, another brutal round immediately followed – this time reducing his blasts to the target level of 2%.
Paul’s battered body paid a heavy price for this victory.
His hair fell out.
His sense of taste disappeared. That, combined with the loss of appetite and persistent nausea, robbed him of all enjoyment of food. He lost 10 kilograms.
He got migraines that lasted for days and were immune to painkillers – even the morphine Veronica finally begged the nurse to administer.
He started to get confused and forget things.
He got terrible chills. Sometimes, he would shiver so badly that Veronica was afraid he was having a seizure.
To add insult to injury, three weeks into Paul’s treatment, there was a flu outbreak in the ward. Due to the extremely fragile nature of chemotherapy patients, the entire ward was put under quarantine.
“There was the beautiful parks just outside the window”, says Paul, “but I had one small circuit of the nurses’ station to the elevators that I could walk with a mask on.” That was Paul’s world for five long weeks.
Finally, Paul’s second round of chemo was over, and he was released to outpatient status. He now had to complete a round or two of outpatient chemo to keep his blasts at bay while the hospital searched for a compatible stem cell donor.
At The Mercy of Fortune
Luckily for Paul, they found one quickly – his sister Janet was a match.
A sibling match’s donated cells have the best chance of accepting the host, rather than attacking him as a foreign body.
But, even with those good odds, there is still a chance of a serious “graft vs. host” reaction. Paul’s doctors told him that there is a 10-15% chance such a reaction could be fatal.
In preparation to receive the donation, Paul was given a final round of “conditioning” chemotherapy – the most powerful round yet, designed to knock out all the patient’s remaining stem cells. This left Paul’s body totally defenceless. The donor’s stem cells were then added to his blood right away, so that they could begin rebuilding his immune system as soon as possible.
On October 18, Paul received his new stem cells, and the wait is on to see if the graft will take. For the next hundred days at least, he will need to stay in Vancouver and be monitored closely for any signs of rejection or infection.
Running Out of Time
Now, the Vander Heidens need our help – and fast.
Their income has been decimated, their expenses are mounting, and their savings are gone. In the midst of so much uncertainty, we can offer them peace of mind in knowing that they won’t risk losing everything.
Here’s the situation:
Paul was eligible for medical EI at 55% of his wage. But with only 15 weeks of EI coverage allotted to him, that money has already run out.
Paul’s employer does offer extended medical coverage and disability benefits. Frustratingly, Paul fell only a couple of months short of eligibility for these programs.
Veronica’s EI caregiver coverage only replaces 55% of her salary. For Veronica, living a long ferry ride away from her husband as he fights for his life is a terrible option – but if they cannot make ends meet, she will have to return to work in another city.
While Paul is an outpatient in Vancouver, he and Veronica will need to stay in hotels and Airbnbs in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Meanwhile, they are still required to make their mortgage payments as usual.
On top of all that add meals, transportation, and the “patient pays” portion of Paul’s medicines – it all starts to add up fast!
Can you imagine being suddenly and seriously ill, your family’s income cut by over half just as your expenses double? That’s what the Vander Heidens are facing right now.
But you can help!
Over the approximately 7 months they will live in Vancouver, Veronica calculates that their extra expenses will add up to $22,800.
Not having to worry about money would make a big difference to Paul. And if everyone who read this donated even $5, it would help Veronica focus on what’s most important right now – to continue to love, support, and cheer on her husband.
How your donations could help Paul and his family:
$5 = Paul’s medicine for a day
$25 = a day’s worth of groceries
$40 = a ferry ride for Amy to visit her dad
$150 = the cost of Paul’s medicine for one month
$675 = a month’s worth of food for Paul & Veronica
$2300 = their Vancouver housing costs for a month
Your support matters.
Together, we can make a big difference for Paul, Veronica and Amy. We are so grateful for every person who helps give Paul a chance to recover without financial fear – and lets him know how loved and important he is.
Every dollar you give will directly help Paul and his family as they fight for a future together.
For more information about Paul and his fight against Acute Myeloid Leukemia, visit the campaign website at www.helppaulfight.com.
1. Who is running this campaign?
We are a group of Paul and Veronica's friends from Victoria, BC and the surrounding area. This campaign is being spearheaded by husband & wife team Shawn DeWolfe and Erin Carson. Shawn has been friends with paul and Veronica for over 20 years.
For more details about our team see our campaign website: https://helppaulfight.com/the-team.html
2. How will the funds will be spent?
Every dollar raised through our GoFundMe will go straight to Paul and his family, to ease their financial burden during this difficult time. Veronica has set up her bank account to receive the funds directly.
Veronica has put together a budget of their costs thus far, as well as estimated future costs until the conclusion of Paul’s treatment in Vancouver:
- Michael Prosolowski
- Heather Senkler
- Heather Marsman
- Darlene Hildebrand