August 14, 2019 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

On July 4, Kimberley Vander Schelde, a second-year Thanatology student, and husband, Sam, a second-year Thanatology and Social Justice and Peace Studies student, met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the patio of the Old South Village Pub in Wortley Village.

This wasn’t a meet-and-greet with the Prime Minister, in London to kick off Sunfest. Instead, the Vander Scheldes spent approximately 10 minutes speaking with Trudeau about the need for increased funding for childhood cancer research. They were accompanied by London West MP Kate Young.

An advocate to raise such funding, Kimberley Vander Schelde has created a Facebook page and an online petition that has over 56,000 signatures. She also leads a support group, assisting over one hundred families in Southwestern Ontario affected by childhood cancer.

The Vander Scheldes’ tie to childhood cancer is very personal. Daughter Olivia was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 18 months. She underwent brain surgery and 50 weeks of chemotherapy in 2006. The chemotherapy saved Olivia’s life but came with long-term side effects.

From 2014-2018, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) invested approximately 3.3 per cent of its overall funding in childhood cancer research, with the highest level during that period being 5 per cent.

When she learned Trudeau would be in London, Vander Schelde left a message on Young’s voicemail, seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister. “I didn’t think in a million years it would happen,” she admits. Instead, her phone call was returned and she was told she would be able to meet with Trudeau for approximately one to two minutes. “I knew I had to make it count,” says Vander Schelde.

Instead, the meeting lasted approximately ten minutes. “I didn’t feel like I was speaking to a politician,” says Vander Schelde. She says Trudeau didn’t use political jargon and had obviously been briefed about her particular story.

Vander Schelde told Trudeau “I’m just a Mom!” without the resources many advocacy groups, who can hire lobbyists, have. Trudeau said grassroots advocates often get more traction. “You should be proud,” he told her of her efforts and agreed that even 5 per cent was not nearly enough.

Vander Schelde says having the Prime Minister agree with her regarding funding gives her hope. “We often think we can’t change anything. I can attest, we can make a difference but we have to stand up and work for it,” says Vander Schelde.

Ironically, the Vander Scheldes had considered stepping back from advocacy work to focus more on their studies at King’s. However, a conversation with Mary Kay Arundel, Field Education Coordinator for King’s School of Social Work, changed that.

Arundel told Vander Schelde, “I would rather have a 70 per cent student who was as active in advocacy as you are than a 90 per cent student who was just going through the motions any day.”

“I was on the cusp of admitting defeat but because of that conversation I’m meeting with the Prime Minister,” says Vander Schelde.