Jayden Lee has such a passion for life that even cancer couldn’t destroy it.
He was just 16 when he started to feel like his body was getting weaker. He started eating better and training more, but nothing helped increase his energy. Where he previously could handle a 10k run easily, he couldn’t even run a lap at the school track.
But determined, Lee kept at it until one day he fainted. The diagnosis, on Jan. 28, 2015, was acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It was the start of three and a half years of treatment for the teenager.
While it could be the start of a sad story, Lee says it was an important turning point in his life.
“Getting sick was by far the best thing that could happen to me,” Lee says. Now age 20, and a licensed Realtor here in Chilliwack, he says his illness forced him into a new way of life.
“I was getting into partying,” he admits, but his months-long stays in hospital gave him a new “appreciation for life.”
He kept up with his school work in the BC Children’s Hospital, inspired by the nurses there and their exceptional way of caring for kids.
“I saw what the nurses did for me,” he says. So he got all of the requirements needed to study nursing after graduation. But because of his cancer treatment, he wasn’t able to volunteer in hospitals until he was able to be re-immunized.
Not wanting to be idle while waiting, he decided to give real estate a try. He fell in love with his new-chosen career, graduating from the program at the age of 18.
“Now I’m doing really well and I love it,” he says. “If I didn’t get sick I wouldn’t have found this.”
He’s just finished his treatment, and in December was at the hospital for a checkup. While he was there, he heard about a program for young cancer patients called On the Tip of the Toes Foundation. He eagerly applied, and last month he traveled to Quebec where he joined 10 other young Canadians on an unforgettable journey.
From March 9–16, the group of 11 who are all in cancer remission, and aged 19 to 29, traveled to the Chic-Chocs. The expedition on a mountain range in the central region of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec brought together young people from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, selected by the medical staff of various oncology centres across Canada.
“They flew us out to Quebec City, and we stayed in a hotel that night,” Lee says. “Then we drove eight hours to Gaspé National Park where we spent three nights in cabins and did little day trips. After those three days we left there and drove a little bit, parked in a parking lot, and snowshoed into day camp, where we set up a camp in the mountain for another three days.”
The first day they spent learning how to set up an outdoor winter camp, including kitchen set up. They traveled with a medical team, and each person did their best to get the most out of the trip.
“On the second day, we hiked the biggest hike, the summit,” Lee says. “In B.C. there is always something higher but here we had a 360 degree view. It was one of the most amazing things I have experienced. It hit every emotion and reminded me of how grateful I am for everyone and everything in my life.”
The On the Tip of the Toes Foundation has organized expeditions since 1996 that are intended for young Canadians undergoing cancer treatment or in cancer remission.
“These expeditions offer participants the opportunity to change the environment and interact with other young people with cancer who, like them, go through the same ordeal. These youths return home changed, ready for a fresh start, and strengthened by a source of motivation that will accompany them throughout their lives”, says Jean-Charles Fortin, Director of the On the Tip of the Toes Foundation.
The group was not allowed to use phones, watches, or any technology, a feeling Lee calls “super weird and refreshing.”
Overall, it was the perfect trip to match Lee’s zest for life. And while on the trip, he was able to spread some of that positivity he’s become well-known for.
“A couple of people, they took it pretty rough and were maybe not in the greatest headspace,” he says. “I was able to share my story, and how I took it as a positive thing. A few were able to say they’d never thought of it like that before.”
Perhaps the best news of all, is that Lee is back to his healthy self. He’s in remission, and feeling as strong as ever.
“I’m 100 per cent good now,” he says. “I go to the gym five days a week.”
For more information about the Foundation, future trips, and fundraising, visit www.pointedespieds.com.