A few weeks ago, four-year-old Mae Doull Hoffman stood in front of all her fellow Manor Park Public School students and told them about her sister, Phoebe.
Phoebe is very sick, she explained to her schoolmates who in turn did something the school administration is very proud of. They started a fundraiser to help Phoebe, Mae and her parents through their difficult time.
“At Manor Park School, we strive to support each student whatever way possible,” said Shari Brodie, the school’s principal. “For big sister Mae, that support starts with helping to make sure Phoebe Rose is healthy.”
In just two weeks, the students and parents at Manor Park Public School have raised more than $3,500 for the family.
Mae’s sister, Phoebe Rose Doull-Hoffman, was diagnosed in October 2010 with a rare form of infant leukemia, infantile acute lymphoblastic leukemia, at nine weeks old. Her treatment so far has consisted of six months of chemotherapy and two bone marrow transplants. In December, Phoebe relapsed and is currently being treated as an out patient at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. For the past two years, Phoebe’s parents, Jenny Doull-Hoffman and Jon Hoffman stopped working in order to be there for their daughter. With money tight, the family admits it has been a struggle.
“We are truly overwhelmed by the generosity of Manor Park Public School and the entire Ottawa community,” said Doull-Hoffman. “Without this kind of support, I don’t know how we would be able to continue to seek treatment for Phoebe.”
Teachers Sarah Horton and Donna Muldoon are working together for the fundraising initiative.
“When we heard what was going on, we thought we needed to do something,” Horton said.
Muldoon is Mae’s junior kindergarten teacher. When Mae stood in front of the entire student body to tell her schoolmates about her sister, Muldoon said she was very proud of her young student.
“It was very emotional,” Muldoon said. “It was a very brave thing to do.”
The fundraising initiatives have even grown beyond the school walls with students, parents and teachers raising money for the family in the community too.
To help this along, Brodie created fundraising tins that have been placed in businesses and community centres in the area.
There currently is no goal for the fundraising effort, but Muldoon said they will stop when they think the family has enough to get by.
“We try to help all the kids at Manor Park,” Muldoon said. “For this, it boils down to sharing in Mae’s family’s hope and giving them courage.”
Doull-Hoffman said the support her family has received from the community has been amazing.
“We are very blessed to have this support and such a wonderful and caring community. It has always helped me to know that many people are thinking of Phoebe and praying for her cure,” she said. “This support has really helped to hold us up on the most difficult days.”
Infantile acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a form of leukemia where immature white blood cells multiply and attack the bone marrow. In Canada, infant leukemia is diagnosed two to three times a year. Since being diagnosed, Phoebe has relapsed twice and over the course of her young life, the two-year-old has participated in two clinical trials with one resulting in a year of remission, before relapsing this past December. Currently, her parents are waiting to hear if she will be accepted into another clinical trial taking place in Philadelphia.
The diagnosis has been hard on the family, but Phoebe’s mother said it has also brought their family closer.
“We have spent a lot of time in the hospital and away from home, but have made this work,” Doull-Hoffman said. “We have traveled for treatment to Toronto and to Memphis and have made a point of staying together at all times. ... This situation has also allowed us a closeness that we wouldn't have had otherwise, although I would trade this for a healthy child, it has brought us together as a family and allowed us (watch our girls grow up.”
Doull-Hoffman began writing a blog, PhoebeRoseRocks.blogspot.ca, as well as created a Facebook group with the same name to keep family and friends updated about Phoebe’s treatments, but the blog quickly became an outlet to raise awareness.
“There are many messages that I hope to convey with the blog - that childhood cancer research is drastically underfunded, that Phoebe’s particular type of cancer is not well understood and it and many others carry a very poor prognosis,” Doull-Hoffman said.
Doull-Hoffman added the blog is read by hundreds of people around the world every day.
Doull-Hoffman’s sister, Kirsten Doull, has been leading the charge in the community to help raise money for the family. At the beginning of the year, Doull held a bottle drive, where Overbrook residents donated their empty liquor and beer bottles.
On Feb. 24 the Ottawa Art Gallery’s rental and sales gallery will host an art auction in support of Phoebe and her family.
The school will be hosting a garage sale on Feb. 2 to help boost its total fundraising amount. Gently used children’s toys and books are being accepted at the school for the sale.