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Tanya Wallman and Tannis McDonald
At this time of the year in Fernie, the energy is palpable. Summer is just beginning, the days are the longest they’ll be all year, events appear like magic and fill our calendars, and there is excitement and hope in the air. It’s not surprising, then, that it’s the month the Elk Valley Relay For Life is held each year, taking place this June 9 at the Fernie Secondary School track from 11am to 11pm.
Timing is everything, and when Tannis McDonald asked us to share her story, I felt this piece about friendship, camaraderie, appreciation, survival, and so much more, fit perfectly with our June edition, and the energy this month carries with it.
Tannis began her journey with leukemia as a child. She managed to stay in remission for a few years until she was told she needed a transplant. Back then, the transplant needed to come from a family member, and fortunately one of her two siblings was a perfect match.
“After the procedure I was in an isolation room for a long period of time. I remember the first day I was allowed to walk across the street being huge,” she recalls. When asked how she dealt with such a serious illness at such a young age, she replies, “I didn’t accept statistics – I was going to be the other person. I believe this contributed to me getting better. Having a positive attitude was huge, and I carried everyone else at that level. I sure put on an amazing performance during that transplant to keep the energy up.”
Last year, 29 years cancer free, Tannis met Tanya Wallman at the Rely for Life. “She was in her infancy of the same type of cancer I had, and there was an immediate connection,” Tannis admits. Having recently finished receiving her transplant and continuing with treatment, Tanya chose to attend the Relay in an effort to give back. “If I’m going to work to save my own life, I am going to work to save others.” What she probably didn’t expect was all that she would receive from being a part of this event. “The response from people was amazing and meeting Tannis – someone who has survived for 29 years was uplifting,” she remembers.
“That’s the wonderful thing about the Relay,” says Tannis. “It’s a great place to connect with other survivors – we all recognize what one another has gone through or is going through. While technology has changed so much since my treatment, the emotions, exhaustion and feelings are the same.” Tannis smiles as she looks across the table at Tanya, “It’s nice to see her now, a year later. It’s changed her and I can totally relate to her.”
Sitting with these two women stuns me. I feel privileged to be a part of this conversation, to witness a friendship that has bloomed from a shared experience – the experience of battling cancer. At first their stories break my heart – the pain, heartache, disappointment and fear. But then I realize it didn’t break their hearts and these feelings are my own. They persevered. They were pillars of strength to those around them. Their appreciation for life, for one another, for the simple and seemingly mundane is admirable and contagious.
This June, maybe instead of asking “Why do you Relay?” we should ask ourselves “Why don’t we?” At the very least, let’s support someone who is!
1. When did you arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? Tanya: I was born in Kelowna but lived in Sparwood since I was five. I was in and out of the Valley for years, and moved to Hosmer in 1998. Tannis: I came in 1998 to visit old ski buddies. We bought a house in 1999, and live five years here, five years in Sydney, Australia.
2. Where did you first live in Fernie? Tanya: I lived in West Fernie while I was going to school at the College. Tannis: Timberline ski out in the Bradish’s basement apartment.
3. What was your first impression? Tanya: I fell in love with Fernie. The scenery was amazing, the people were amazing – such a tight knit community. When someone’s in trouble, everyone steps up to the plate. Tannis: Wow! It was just wow!
4. What keeps you in Fernie? Tanya: My life, my family, my husband, my kids… and just all that this Valley is. Tannis: All the fun you can have here… endless fun.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory? Tanya: Meeting Tannis at the Relay for life. Tannis: The victory lap at the Relay for Life. (Looking at Tanya, she says “You’ll be by my side this year.”)
6. What is your favourite time of the year in Fernie and why? Tanya: Anything but winter!
Tannis: Mid winter – all covered in snow!
7. Where do you see Fernie in 5 to 10 years? Tanya: I have mixed emotions about how it’s turned into a resort community. I would like to see it regain some of what it’s lost. Tannis: I would like to see two golf courses, two ski hills, and a thriving main street.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Tanya: A good cup of coffee and the internet. There’s business to be done in the morning. Tannis: Every night I say an appreciation for the day.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. Tanya: I am probably a much bigger marshmallow than people think. Tannis: I watch Coronation Street.
10. Quote to live by: Tanya: Stay calm, carry on, get’er done. Tannis: If you can’t go through the front door, go through the back.