After taking part in the Miss Teen Ontario East pageant, I feel as if I have been overwhelmed with many blessings; life experience, personal growth and opportunity, but the blessing of meeting amazing people with inspirational life stories is a blessing that, in it’s unique kind of way, shines the brightest. The pageant volunteers and organizers are simply a thrill to be around, they sure know how to have fun, dedicate an extraordinary amount of time preparing and organizing pageant weekend and, then, dedicate more time on top of that during the weekend of the pageant. There is one person, though, who undoubtedly stands out because of her astounding story and her name is – Paige. Paige is one of the reasons why this Miss Teen Ontario East Pageant takes place annually, as she is a true example of strength and hope and motivation for this pageant to happen every year, as it does. Kind of like the core of the apple, or the heart of the human body; Paige and her story serve as an inspiration for all of the volunteers and participants of this pageant; one of the reasons why the volunteers dedicate so much of their time, work so diligently every year and put every ounce of their blood sweat and tears into this event.
I never personally knew Paige until this past year and was also able to grasp the depth of her story whether it was because of attending events with her, or just by spending some time with her. Anytime that I able to spend time with Paige, it is definite that I will enjoy being in her presence because of her good humour, love of life and lively personality. Whether we have a couple of bags of chips, a Chick-Flick, or perhaps, even both of these things, she always makes me feel welcomed and content – her happiness emanates right off of her and you can’t help but enjoy the moment. Considering everything that Paige had to go through as a child, you would likely find it hard to believe that this girl had to go through surgery, treatment and radiation (to name a few) battling cancer, simply because of how cheerful and positive she is when you meet her.
Paige was the typical young girl, she played soccer, was a competitive dancer and had straight A’s in school. At the age of eight, in 2003, she began to have headaches, started losing her balance and became very nauseous. Paige was taken to the doctor for what they believed it to be a severe ear infection but was later admitted into the Intensive Care Unit at CHEO after multiple tests with many doctors. Two days later, she underwent a 14 hour surgery to remove a large tumour in her brain; Medullablastoma, a malignant and very aggressive brain tumour – brain cancer.
Paige woke up from the surgery unable to swallow, talk, move her arms or legs and had to eat through tubes. Immediately after, she started a 56 week cancer treatment protocol of high potency chemotherapy and high grade radiation. In addition, she also began vey intensive therapy sessions to teach her brain how to do everything all over again. Paige was hospitalized for a six month period and then as an in-patient, out-patient for the next eleven years. She was isolated from her school mates for months at a time due to her compromised immune system, she was bald for over two years of her life and she was told that she would never dance competitively again. Paige experienced a change in her learning abilities due to the side effects from the surgery and the high grade levels of radiation treatment to the brain and spine. It is almost incomprehensible just what Paige had to endure, as well as what other kids with cancer have to go through. There are not many that could have persevered.
I was introduced to Paige’s Courage Bead Necklace last year. This visual presentation of what she went through is impacting and very overwhelming. CANDLELIGHTERS, Childhood Cancer Support Program Inc. is an amazing charity that I was introduced to during my reign as Miss Teen Ontario East and they have a program called the COURAGE BEAD PROGRAM that gives young cancer champions a unique way to catalogue their individual cancer journeys. At diagnosis, the cancer champion is given a leather string and each time they have a treatment, procedure or appointment of any kind at the hospital they are given a coloured bead that represents that particular treatment. For example; a RED bead is given every time the child has their blood tested (or poked as they say), a BLUE bead for every night spent in hospital, special RAINBOW beads for major surgery, GREEN beads for clinic visits at the hospital, a BLACK bead for every bag of antibiotics that is fed to their system intravenously, a PURPLE bead for every blood transfusion and the list goes on. The kids track their cancer story in coloured beads and continue their necklaces until they receive the coveted GOLD BEAD which signifies the end of treatment.
Paige’s Bead necklace is very impacting. This visual aid of part of her story and it hits you right in the heart. Her Courage Bead necklace would go around the entire perimeter of a large school gym! To see this necklace and comprehend what each bead means and what she went through during her fight is humbling – it urges people to get involved and make a difference in the lives of kids with cancer. The scary part is that Paige is just one of the 50 kids who will be diagnosed in my area of Eastern Ontario alone this year.
Cancer takes their childhoods and changes the lives of childhood cancer champions forever. For Paige, 11 years later, she still uses a wheelchair or a walker, her competitive dancing days are over, her breathing is compromised, she has short term memory issues and learning challenges and she will always be short because of the radiation to the area of the brain.
You would think these challenges would limit the input that Paige would have on the world, but not Paige! Paige will tell you that being in a cancer ward and experiencing firsthand what kids with cancer go through motivated her to fund raise and raise awareness for childhood cancer and the charities that support kids with cancer. She started her first event in 2003 when she was very ill and hasn’t stopped yet. It has become her primary focus and her personal quest to make a difference in the lives of kids with cancer. Paige is now a recognized motivational speaker and visits schools, businesses, parliament and various community and regional events and tells her story to promote awareness of Childhood cancer and the charities that support kids with cancer and their families and to motivate others to get involved.
Paige has been recognized with a Spirit of the Youth Courage Award, was chosen as ONE of FOUR Canadian HEROS of HOPE by the Cancer Society for her Awareness campaign for Relay for Life events, was chosen as the National Youth Philanthropy Award recipient in 2013 for Ottawa and area and just this past May was one of 7 Ontario youths awarded the Ontario Medal of Honour for Youth Volunteers by the Lieutenant Governor in a special ceremony at Queen’s Park.
Paige personifies the word COURAGE and proves to everyone that no matter what age, we can make an impact on the lives of others. She is one of the reasons that Promoting Awareness of Childhood Cancer is such an important component of my Charity Platform and is a glimmer of inspiration to myself as well as the MANY others that know her or have heard her story.
I would like to close this Blog entry with a quote that Paige uses every time she closes off her presentation. It is the motto that she lives by and certainly one that we should all adopt:
“CHERISH YOUR YESTERDAYS
DREAM YOUR TOMORROWS
But ALWAYS LIVE YOUR TODAYS!”