Iona Wharton

Campbell River woman fighting back against childhood cancer

When Iona Wharton’s close friend lost her daughter to cancer last year, she was desperate to do something to help.

Wharton quickly realized the most meaningful thing she could do was to help her friends in their crusade to fight back against pediatric cancer.

“For them it’s about how do we help and stop other families from having to go through this,” Wharton says.

Her friends lost their 17-year-old daughter Robyn Boytinck in July of 2015, 13 months after being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. Miraculously, Robyn battled back and after some quick treatment and intervention, her cancer went into remission. But three months later, Robyn was diagnosed with a new cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Despite putting up a valiant fight, Robyn succumbed to the disease.

Robyn’s mom, Marina Boytinck, turned her grief into determination.

Wanting to raise awareness of the devastating and all-too-real impacts of pediatric cancer, Marina got in touch with Unravel Pediatric Cancer, an American non-profit organization working to spread knowledge about pediatric cancer and boost the amount of funding directed towards pediatric cancer research.

“She started bugging them, asking if she could be their organizer in Canada because she felt so lost after she lost Robyn and wanted to do something,” Wharton says.

Her determination paid off and the organization unveiled its Fluttering campaign in Canada for the first time this September –Childhood Cancer Awareness month which is marked with a gold ribbon. Wharton, eager to do her part, set up a Fluttering fundraiser page in Robyn’s memory. Her goal is to raise $500 by Sept. 30 to go towards pediatric cancer research, which according to Unravel Pediatric Cancer is underfunded. The organization says that in the United States, the federal government allots less than four per cent of that nation’s tax dollars set aside for cancer research to pediatric cancer.

Wharton says that’s unacceptable.

“To me, these are our future,” Wharton says. “I just want to throw this out to the town because I know our town has a big heart. It’s putting yourself in these parents’ shoes. It was heartbreaking to see my friends go through this.”

And, she says, childhood cancer seems to sadly be becoming more and more common.

“When I was growing up, I hardly ever heard of kids getting cancer. Now it seems almost everyone knows of a kid going through cancer,” Wharton says. “I know of two people in town who have a child with cancer and I’m sure other people do too.”

Which is what makes the Fluttering campaign all the more important. Wharton says even if she doesn’t reach her fundraising goal, she hopes that through telling her friend’s story, it will help increase awareness that Childhood Cancer Awareness month exists and that childhood cancer is a reality for millions of parents.

“I have a son the same age as Robyn and to watch my friends’ journey through this; feeling overwhelmed, horrified, angry, desperate and so sad has been beyond hard – a parent’s worse nightmare,” Wharton says. “Now I watch them in their quest to find better funding for pediatric cancer, awareness in hopes for a cure so no other child and parents need to go through this.”

Through the Fluttering campaign, anyone who gives a suggested donation of $25 gets to ‘flutter’ a friend, family member, or whomever they choose. The ‘flutter’ recipient will get a dozen plastic dragonflies in their yard for a day, along with a sign and an envelope challenging the recipient to consider making a donation.

Wharton stresses, however, that it’s all in good fun and donors don’t have to send the dragonflies.

Anyone who would like to make a donation online can visit her Fluttering page at: give.unravelcancer.org/fundraise?fcid=746219 or call Iona at 250-287-0647 to send some dragonflies and challenge someone to fundraise.