Ian McInnis is not going to lie: the Christmas season doesn’t exactly fill him with joy. If his three-year-old daughter Violet wants to go see Santa, well, he will make it happen.
“But it’s a heavy time of year,” the Lower Sackville construction worker told me Wednesday. “Normally I don’t seek out much merriment.”
Saturday, though, will be different.
Between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., if you are so inclined, you can meet McInnis, along with his partner Kat Ellis and their first and only child at the Halifax Blood Donor Centre on Bayers Road.
You will know them by their smiles.
Three Christmases ago Violet was fighting for her life in the pediatric intensive care ward at the IWK Children’s Hospital. At nine months old, she was diagnosed with infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of those one-in-a-million cancers of the blood and bone marrow, with a mercifully high survival rate.
Once she was strong enough to leave the intensive care unit, Violet entered the IWK’s children’s cancer unit, where she would spend the next seven months.
“There were a lot of firsts for her in there,” her father said. “Her first steps, first Christmas, first birthday.”
There the little girl endured chemotherapy. When her blood platelet count dropped, she was given a transfusion, an event that occurred so often that her dad lost track of the total.
“If she wasn’t a cheery kid it would have gone a lot harder,” Ian said. “But she charmed everybody from the utility room staff up to the surgeons.”
Now she and her family want to do give something back to everyone who helped her get through those excruciating months.
Blood donations often drop off during the holiday season, a time when they can be needed most.
That’s why their whole clan is heading for the Canadian Blood Services clinic on Saturday where they will hand out sweets and even make a little music for any visitors there to give blood.
“Hopefully we’ll help get a few extra donations,” said her father. “We got a lot of help from the folks at the IWK. We just want to help the team out that helped us.”
Since it’s a special morning there’s a good chance that Violet, a huge fan of the Disney movie Frozen, will wear the princess costume she saves for such occasions.
The chemo treatments ended in December 2018, so she’s growing her chestnut brown hair long enough that her mom can pull it together in a braid. Otherwise, she’s just a normal, happy little girl — “three-and-ahalf going on 18,” according to dad — who likes being outside, perhaps because of those early days spent indoors, and loves everything “little and furry,” including her grandmother’s puppy.
Her parents haven’t tried to shield her from what she’s gone through. Violet knows that she spent a lot of time at the IWK and that, for a while, she was very sick.
Her favourite stuffed toy is a Nova Scotia duck toller given to her by a little boy who was in the cancer ward at the same time as she was, who didn’t make it.
She also knows that she has to watch out for infections while in public; the chemo treatments mean that she’s a little behind in getting all of her immunization boosters.
But her young age will hopefully shield her from “jarring memories” later on, even if Violet still likes to use the toy doctor’s kit she got as a gift while in hospital, to check on the health of her stuffed toys.
She’s in remission now, her doctor’s visits limited to quarterly checkups as she heads towards the five-year all-clear for infant ALL.
“It has a nasty habit of coming back,” her dad said, “so we’re prepared for anything even though we’re going positively forward.”
They long for the day, as every parent would, when Violet’s illness will just be another story in her onwards and upwards life and, maybe, her experience could even allow her to help other kids going through the same thing.
(As rare as it is statistically, two other infant ALL sufferers were in the IWK at the same time as Violet, and she recently met a youngster with the same diagnosis whose parents go to her grandmother’s church.)
Who knows, maybe the time will come when Christmas makes her dad’s spirits lift again.
“Every year that we get a little further away from Violet’s first Christmas the possibility grows,” he told me.