Patti’s passion

“Trade your expectation with appreciation and the world changes instantly.” ~ Tony Robbins

If you ask Patti Foulon if life is good, she’ll respond with a resounding yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy.

Patti was 24 and only two years into her marriage with Bob when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Four years later, Bob was gone and, at age 28, Patti was facing life as a widow. At the same time, Patti’s mother was also diagnosed with cancer. Unlike Bob, Margaret lived to beat cancer twice and passed away a few years ago at the age of 83.

“Mom lived a good long life,” says Patti, “but Bob, he was too young to die. You know what they say though, out of some bad, comes some good. Bob taught me how to be strong for other families facing cancer. There’s been a lot of cancer in my family and that’s what fuels my passion for Kids Cancer Care.”

A veteran volunteer of 15 years and a monthly donor for the past five, Patti is passionate about Kids Cancer Care. “I’ve volunteered for a lot of organizations in my life and Kids Cancer Care is by far and wide the best organization I have ever volunteered for,” she says. “That’s why my partner Gary and I became monthly donors; we know what Kids Cancer Care does for families.”

After Bob passed away, Patti travelled to New Zealand and Australia for a stint but she was forced to end the trip early when she had a seizure. Although the seizure turned out to be a one-off occurrence that would never happen again, Patti was shaken by the experience. “Bob’s first symptom before diagnosis was a seizure,” she says. “I was sure I had a brain tumour.”

Patti flew home and resumed life in Calgary. Unwell and unable to work, Patti decided to direct her sorrow into something positive. She took a volunteer position at Ronald McDonald House and soon discovered a special place in her heart for the cancer families there. Over the years, Patti formed deep, lasting relationships with these families. “There’s something about sharing that kind of experience and intimacy together that creates an intense bond. We still get together regularly.”

Patti and other volunteers serving children at Camp Kindle on an Ice Cream Friday

It wasn’t long before Patti brought her passion and gifts to Kids Cancer Care. For seven years, she was a volunteer camp counsellor and one-to-one aide at camp. Recently, she joined Keith Shepherd’s volunteer BBQ crew at Camp Kindle on Ice Cream Fridays.

“Patti is an amazing volunteer,” says Megan Gough of Kids Cancer Care. “She’s at every event and donates to our auctions. She lives out of the city, so when she volunteers at Dad and Daughter, she actually pays for a hotel room to do it. She is the perfect volunteer and champion. We are so fortunate to have her.”

But if you ask Patti she says, “I’m the lucky one. Volunteering for these families gave me my sanity. I learn more and get way more from the kids than I’ve ever given to them.”

Patti remembers the days before Camp Kindle when Kids Cancer Care rented space at another camp facility to send children to camp. One summer, she was volunteering as a one-to-one aide for a little girl named Hayley whose prognosis was poor and who had lost a lot of mobility due to her brain tumour. Against her better judgement, but beyond her control as a volunteer, Patti found herself on an out-trip with Hayley and a handful of other campers and volunteers on a particularly stormy evening.

“I didn’t want to go out in the night with those kids in all that rain and mud,” Patti recalls. “But Hayley and the other kids really wanted to go. The counsellor from Kids Cancer Care had taken a sick child into the city, to the hospital, so she wasn’t there to intervene. I was angry and complaining a lot. Here I was with these kids, packing pillows and sleeping bags up and down these muddy slopes in the rain. Some of the kids were immune-compromised and I was stressed and worried.”

At the tent, settling in for the night, Patti continued to complain. “We were soaking wet, our sleeping bags were soaking wet and I went on grumbling. Finally Hayley got up in my face, so close our noses were almost touching, and said, ‘Would you please stop complaining? I really want to do this and I may never get to do it again.’ Boy, did she shut me up. A dying child telling me to stop complaining.”

Hayley was right. It would be her last out-trip and her last camp experience. She died later that year.

That wasn’t the only lesson the little girl had for Patti that summer. “Hayley and I were doing arts and crafts together, painting pictures onto small tiles for a mosaic,” recalls Patti. “She was quite a gifted little artist and I have no skill in that area at all. When I told her, ‘I just can’t do it like you Hayley,’ she said, ‘Now we’re going to sit here and draw until you draw a decent lady bug.’”

Patti’s ladybug, inspired by a little camper named Hayley, still lives on the mosaic at Kids Cancer Care today.

Patti’s ladybug, inspired by Hayley’s tenacity, still lives on the colourful mosaic at Kids Cancer Care today. A gawky little critter, the ladybug with its childlike simplicity still causes Patti embarrassment when she sees it.

So what lesson did the ladybug bring? Perseverance? Tenacity? Better times are coming? Perhaps Patti’s lesson was to recognize herself in that little red bug with the lively polka dots. In many spiritual traditions, the ladybug is a symbol for Lady-Luck, bringing luck and abundance where ever she goes. She points to happier, better times to come. Some say the ladybug represents love. If that was the lesson, then Patti fully embraced it and still lives it each day.


“Every day is a gift. I feel blessed to give to these families and to be part of Kids Cancer Care,” she says. “Family comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and I consider Kids Cancer Care family.”

Patti credits these gifts to Bob’s cancer journey. “It totally shaped who I am today. He is why I can be strong for families today,” she says. “He made it so easy for me. He didn’t complain or feel sorry for himself. He wanted to live life and we did. We travelled a lot. I had a gift — I had him for four years. We had four great years together after his diagnosis and most of those years were wonderful. It was only the last six months that were hard.”

When Bob found out he was dying, he immediately retired from his dental practice and went out and purchased a lot to build a women’s clothing store for Patti. “I said, ‘What am I going to do with a clothing store? I don’t need that.’ And he said, ‘You never know, you might need a distraction when I’m gone.’”

Like Hayley, Bob was right. The clothing store provided Patti with a welcome distraction after he passed. When she later sold it, the store provided her with a means to travel. Bob was right on another occasion too. “During his cancer journey, he told me, ‘Better things are gonna’ come for you.’”

If the ladybug does foretell of better times to come, maybe Bob and Hayley, each in their own way, pointed Patti toward a new life, a new beginning, a life of service and giving to others. Call it strange coincidence or wonderful synchronicity that these disparate pieces should come together in Patti’s volunteer work at Camp Kindle — a magical place represented by the Kindle Bug or Love Bug as some call it.

“I feel like I have a lot to give these families because I’ve been through a lot myself,” she says. “And, as long as I am able, I will give to Kids Cancer Care. I’ll be giving until I die and, even after I die, because I’ve also left something in my will for Kids Cancer Care. I never had children of my own, so these kids, children with cancer, became my kids, and the legacy I leave will be for them.”