The community that often surrounds those most in need of love and caring has changed in ways making the world smaller, and better.
It’s a community of people who can physically hug others close, but today it’s also a community that offers and sends support through the World Wide Web, the Internet.
For one Red Deer family, support from family and friends as well as that online connection is helping them get through the loss of a child.
Up until the very end, those closest to Keera St. Laurent took turns holding the four-year-old in their arms. And they shared her unfolding story online where hundreds of photos and supportive comments have been posted.
Sadly, last Saturday, less than a day after a caring community held a moving candlelight vigil for her and her family outside her window at Red Deer Regional Hospital, young Keera passed away. Her battle with cancer was over, and with it went the tremendous pain she suffered through.
Keera, nicknamed Girlie, is survived by her parents Jessi and Darrell St. Laurent, her brother Devin, 6, a large extended family and many friends.
“People are making fancy little pictures and posting (them), uplifting prayers and thoughts, even the support of people we don’t know personally has been amazing, and of course close friends, and distant friends who have become close. People have done so much for us,” Jessi, 29, said Monday.
“You could just feel the love pouring out of everybody. It was a very incredible experience,” she said of the vigil that was held Friday evening.
“There again, people who couldn’t attend were on the (Hugs for Keera Facebook) page putting their candles that they had lit at the same time … there was a lady in England who stayed up, it was 2 o’clock her time .. and lit a candle. That candlelight vigil was huge. It was just amazing,” Jessi said.
Keera’s trouble began just after she turned two, said her grandmother, Cora Simpson.
Just before Christmas in 2013, Keera seemed to get very tired, did not want to walk and just wanted to be held.
In February 2014, following an MRI in Calgary, doctors discovered a tumour on her brain, which had spread to her spine. It was a type of aggressive cancer found mainly in children — known as a supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumour. The family was told they were in for an uphill battle and chances weren’t good for Keera, Cora said.
Doctors could not operate because the tumour was too small. So Keera underwent chemo-dialysis in Calgary, and then radiation.
“She did beat it for awhile,” said Cora.
“(Keera) was famous for saying, ‘I’m gonna kick cancer’s ass. And when it came back again she still said that.”
This past September, a follow-up regular MRI showed the cancer had returned.
At this point, said Cora, Keera’s parents had to choose between more treatment in Calgary for their daughter, but that she probably wouldn’t make it to January.
They chose not to continue with the treatment, Cora said.
“(Keera) wanted to be at home and Jessi said, ‘No, if you can’t fix it, we’re not going to prolong the inevitable and have her miserable. She might live an extra three months but it would be three months away from everybody.’”
“That was the decision,” said Cora.
Keera’s parents tried other things, such as an organic diet and herbs, Cora said. “My daughter and son-in-law moved heaven and earth to try everything and it just didn’t work. The tumour just continued to grow.”
At the end of October, the Make A Wish Foundation sent Keera, her brother and parents to Disney World in Florida. Originally the plan was to send them in December, but Keera was getting sicker.
She was able to enjoy some of what Disney World had to offer. “She got to party with the princesses and had a princess makeover,” and went on some of the rides.
A few days after the family returned in early November, her parents took Keera to Red Deer Regional Hospital where she was placed in pallative care.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cora said about the pain Keera was in then. In the end, Keera was put into a medically induced coma to save her from that pain.
“We had been taking turns cradling her in our arms that last couple of days, and she seemed to be so much better in somebody’s arms. She just seemed to be peaceful.”
“We all had a chance to say goodbye. We all told her how much we loved her. It was time.”
“We would say, ‘Go fly with the angels darling, you’re tired,’” Cora said.
“She was the happiest most loving little girl I’ve ever seen. She didn’t know a stranger. She had a smile with a dimple that just lit up a room. She had twinkly blue eyes, curly hair.”
“She loved dolls and tea parties, princesses, her favourite song was Barbie by Aqua … she would sing that song and dance.”
The day Keera died happened to also be Cora’s 55th birthday.
“My birthday wish was that Keera would simply pass, to get her out of her agony. That’s a terrible thing for any grandmother to say but to watch her suffer like that was the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
To other families who have a child with cancer, Cora says: “Love your child as long as you’ve got them. Never give up hope. Fight, fight, fight. And there’s organizations and people out there that support you, that you don’t even know exist.”
At 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Keera passed away peacefully in the arms of her great grandmother, Charlene Benson.
Keera’s funeral is this Saturday, 11 a.m. at Parkland Funeral Home. Instead of flowers, the family is asking donations be made directly to Help Families Handle Cancer or to the Make A Wish Foundation.
Jessi said she will always remember her daughter as a princess. “She loved everybody and everybody always loved her. She was always beautiful and she always found the beauty in everything.”
“We’re still trying to figure out how to cope with it. It’s nothing anybody should ever experience in a life,” Jessi said.
“We greatly appreciate everything and we couldn’t have, and wouldn’t be able to do this, without the support.”