It wasn't until it happened to his little girl, Karissa, in July 2012 that the father of seven gained an intimate look into just how devastating the disease can be.
“We heard about childhood cancer here and there ... but we had no idea what it was all about, or how many children are affected,” said Kruk, speaking to dozens of people who gathered at Cambrian College for the launch of the seventh annual Teddy Bear Picnic Auction.
On July 11, 2012, without any warning, the lives of the entire Kruk family were turned upside down. The first sign of illness in Karissa was when Kruk noticed bruises on her arms and legs. She then developed a high fever, became very lethargic and started developing spots all over her body, caused by bleeding under the skin.
“Karissa went from being a very happy, outgoing little girl to being a very scared little girl,” Kruk said.
She eventually ended up at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital, where she was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer. The months that followed were filled with stress, but that's natural when you fear for your child's life on a daily basis, Kruk said.
As a railroad worker, Kruk used a train analogy to sum up what it felt like to watch his daughter go through what she did.
“It's like you see you child off in the distance walking along the tracks, but there's a fast-moving train bearing down on her, and there's nothing you can do because you're so far away. You never know if she's going to be able to get out of the way in time.”
But, after more than one year of fighting cancer, Karissa is now in remission, thanks to a new treatment using arsenic. Karissa spent 12 weeks going through this treatment, and there have been no side effects.
“I don't think there is any higher form of stress than having to watch your child in that condition, especially when doctors don't even know much about it,” he said.
That's why more investment in childhood cancer research is needed. The more doctors and scientists are able to discover, the easier it will be for families to choose treatment plans when there are a number of options available to them, he said.
“We are thankful for the research that helped us decide which treatment to choose, but we know there is still more work to do to help children like Karissa,” Kruk said.
That's where the Teddy Bear Picnic Auction comes into play. The campaign is a student-led initiative at Cambrian College that raises money for childhood cancer research. More than $55,000 has been raised since its inception, with $22,000 raised last year alone.
In its first year, the auction raised about $2,000. It's clear the support for the campaign continues to increase, as does the level of participation across all programs at Cambrian, said Janis Clarke, speaking on behalf of the schools of Justice, Community Service and General Studies.
“This collaboration continues to capture the imagination at the college,” she said. “We even have departments at the college competing with one another to see whose bear package brings in the most money.”
For the next five weeks, students in Cambrian's Police Foundations program will be canvassing local businesses, collecting Teddy Bear packages that will be put up for auction. Then, on Nov. 9, those Teddy Bear packages will be auctioned off to the highest bidders.
“We feel privileged to be able to partner with the Canadian Cancer Society,” said Catlin Cargill, a second-year Police Foundations student. “It's great seeing how much of a difference this makes in our community.
“As students striving to become police officers, we seize every opportunity there is to better ourselves and develop the skills we need. Through this campaign, we learn to work as a team and develop leadership skills, but most important, we are able to better the community, and we can't stress enough how grateful we are to have that opportunity.”
The three most common cancers in children are leukemia, cancers of the central nervous system and lymphoma, said Cathy Burns, manager, Canadian Cancer Society, Sudbury and District. About 1,310 Canadian children and youth between birth and 19 years of age will develop cancer each year.
Thanks to research efforts, 82 per cent of those children will survive for at least five years after diagnosis.
“We are doing everything we can to prevent cancer, to save lives and to support those living with cancer,” said Burns.
There will be a variety of children's activities available, as well. Also up for grabs in the live auction is a signed Marcus Foligno jersey, as well as a Porter Airlines package as a door prize.
Any businesses or individual wishing to donate at Teddy Bear package can contact Jen Kwiatkowski at 705-670-1234 or via email at [email protected].