Young mom is overwhelmed with community generosity

Beachburg – Paige Atherton has fought a very public cancer battle following her diagnosis, launching a petition asking the Ford government to prioritize life-saving cancer surgeries during the COVID-19 pandemic as she desperately waited for a surgery date in Toronto.

Now she has again gone public with her story as her family rallies around her to raise funds for surgery in the United States which is expected to cost $100,000.

“It has been overwhelming throughout the whole journey how many people are following us,” she noted when speaking to the Leader on Tuesday. “I get random messages from people I don’t even know. It all gives me a bit more optimism maybe the outcome will be what we are hoping for.”

As a young mom of three, she was diagnosed with appendix cancer, a very rare type of cancer in 2019, a month after her third child was born.

“It was uncommon to begin with but more uncommon with a younger person,” she said.

Initially she had surgery and chemo and things seemed successful. However, a follow up in 2020 showed the cancer had spread and she needed surgery again. Fortunately, she was a candidate for a complex surgery known as HIPEC which essentially removes all signs of cancer in the abdomen and bathes the area in chemo, which would be done at Mt. Sinai in Toronto. With delays because of COVID, Paige went public with her story, urging the Ontario government to stop delaying cancer surgeries and move to eliminate the backlog. Paige was a Stage 4 cancer patient and the need for her surgery was urgent. Her online petition received almost 50,000 signatures and her story reached people across the province. She received the surgery in June, 2021, and it was considered successful.

This March, at her nine-month scan, she was told the cancer had come back. The best option again seemed to be another HIPEC surgery and Paige was back in Toronto in August for the procedure.

“It failed because the spread was a lot more than they realized,” she noted. “It wasn’t the best news.”

Continuing the surgery was seen as too risky.

“The good part was that my surgeon said she was willing to find someone else who was willing to do it. That was reassuring and gave me a little bit of hope.”

Paige has been part of an appendix cancer support group online and she had heard of the success some doctors in the United States were having with complicated cases like hers. This is the surgical team she is dealing with now.

“They are very optimistic they can do a surgery on me in late winter or early spring.”

The reason for the delay is because it would not be safe to operate earlier since she had the most recent surgery in August, she explained.

While there is hope with this surgical team in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there is also a tremendous cost because it is doubtful OHIP will cover the procedure. She can’t apply for OHIP to cover the surgery until she has a date, but she has been cautioned it is unlikely it will be approved for coverage. The cost is estimated to be about $100,000. Paige has been unable to work since her initial diagnosis and is on a disability pension. Her husband, Alec, has also had to take leaves from work during this time, so their financial situation is challenging.

As a result, the family has rallied around her to help her raise the funds needed. There is a Go Fund Me page – Support for Paige and her family – and a Paige’s Amber Army fundraiser at the Shady Nook Rec Centre in Laurentian Valley on December 3 with multiple prizes – more information on that is available through FB. Both are receiving great support and Paige is daily thankful as she sees the generosity of others. The Go Fund Me page was almost at $20,000 on Tuesday, only five days after being created.

“It is overwhelming. I never have the words to thank people enough for what they have done for us,” she said.

Paige is now 29 and her children are 6, 4 and turning 3 this month.

“I feel at this point it is all for them. I bring three little people into the world and I want to be around for as long as I can for them,” she said. “I want to give it the best chance I can for them.”

While she awaits surgery, she is doing chemo to shrink the cancer.

“The chemo has not been going well,” she said. “I had two rounds and both times I ended up in hospital.”

Her oncologist is looking at a new strategy for the chemo, but it is just one more complication as she awaits the hope of surgery and takes care of her very young family.

Paige, who grew up in the Valley, has been deeply moved by the support she has received throughout her cancer journey, and especially now as the community is supporting her in raising funds for her surgery. Her last words when speaking to the Leader were of thankfulness.

“Regardless of what people have done, it is just saying thank you for everything. It doesn’t matter how big or small the contribution. It all matters. Thank you all for whatever part you have done.”

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader