Dad & Daughter Frozen Gala – Celia’s story

October 31, 2014

One of the perks of Bob’s job with TD is that he often represents the bank at community events. Ironically this is how our family was first introduced to the amazing work of Kids Cancer Care. Shortly after we relocated to Calgary, Bob took Celia to her first Dad and Daughter Gala, a sold-out fundraiser the organization hosts each October. At three, Celia was enchanted by the fancy affair and refused to leave the dance floor where she twirled around, proudly displaying a tiny wrist corsage. Celia begged to add sparkly eye shadow and lip gloss to her formal wear the next year, which was when she learned that not everyone wins a door prize, much to her four year-old disappointment. Last year Bob held onto the tickets as long as possible before accepting that his five year-old date was too sick to go anywhere. Of all things missed during Celia’s illness, the Dad and Daughter Gala seemed to hit Bob the hardest.

Celia and I spent an entire afternoon shopping for the perfect accessories to compliment her simple but pretty blue and purple dress. By the time we left the mall, I was exhausted and Celia could not wait to get home to put on a fashion show. Her favourite find was a hair band with an oversized flower to perfectly cover her bald spot. Of course it was silver, much like the purse, shoes and tights she selected. Paying no attention to price tags, I tried to enjoy the experience, thinking that it could be the closest thing to prom we might ever have. Getting caught up in the girly moment, I sprung for a fancy Christmas outfit as well, treating Celia to her first pair of teeny tiny black patent heels. I laughed to myself, envisioning a holiday photo with Celia looking Sears catalogue perfect next to her grubby brother who would undoubtedly fight me over wearing anything with a collar.

Celia typically shies away from the spotlight, especially when it has anything to do with her having cancer. So, mentally we prepared Celia for the gala, seeking permission to show pictures of times during treatment she might rather forget. Initial resistance led to an important discussion about our family’s responsibility, which seemed to resonate with both kids. By the time Saturday arrived, Celia had just aced a TV interview, which gave her the necessary confidence to follow Bob onto stage in front of more than 800 guests, where she sat up high on a bar stool. I was nervous and proud as Bob began, allowing himself to be so incredibly vulnerable. Only a few minutes into things, when a tasteful image of Bob’s above the heart Be Brave Be Strong tattoo was displayed, the audience cheered. I had planned to look around to observe reactions but instead found myself glued to the little girl on stage, staring up at her dad with so much love and admiration. Borrowing Bob’s seat at the front row table, I was among friends, sandwiched between two amazing dads we met on the Oncology unit of the hospital.

Bob Yarish and his daughter Celia, complete with blue teeth from Frozen treats, at the 2014 Dad and Daughter Gala.

The Frozen themed gala featured live reindeer, ice sculptures, karaoke, glass jewelry making and more. Celia was especially fond of the pre-dinner entertainment featuring Elsa and Anna as well as the candy bar. Over three hundred thousand dollars was raised to fund pediatric cancer interests, which is amazing. But, based on the standing ovation, I’m willing to bet that what many will remember of this year’s gala is the story told by one father about his unbreakable family and inspiring little daughter. Bob was approached countless times after his speech with offers of support and congratulations. One dad shared that he lost his son Jason five years ago to AT/RT and Bob felt an instant bond of human connection. After someone tweeted to say that he had never been more moved by a story, we couldn’t help but wonder if the audience had been cheated a little. Imagine if they knew that we were days away from knowing whether or not Celia was terminal.

You go through life knowing that certain decisions will impact the course of your life – who you marry, whether or not you get a particular job, or change cities. In all of these examples, you maintain some control, the ability to influence the outcome. Leading up to today’s MRI we could do nothing but think positive, willing the universe to deliver a miracle. Be Brave, Be Strong…we both thought as the phone rang and we were too scared to exhale. Today’s MRI conclusively determined that Celia remains CANCER FREE! The three lesions on Celia’s brain are necrosis (areas of post-radiation damage), which appear stable and may actually be shrinking. In addition, the swelling (edema) surrounding these lesions has gone down since the last nightmarish imaging. We are on top of the world, although too tired to celebrate, or tonight at least. Watch out world, Celia Jane Yarish is unstoppable (and thankfully also completely oblivious to the last six weeks of torture). BBBS

~ Brandie Yarish