-By Michael Potestio / Kamloops This Week
A local nurse is feeling thankful for the wave of financial support she has received during the COVID-19 pandemic as she battles her own health issues.
Jaylene Stewart, 25, has stage three melanoma, which led to her friend, Talia Ollek, creating a GoFundMe page to help her pay for myriad expenses at a time when she cannot work. While the pandemic has put financial stress on many, the fundraiser has still managed to raise nearly $11,000 in less than two weeks, with even more donations coming in directly to Stewart via e-transfer.
The immense generosity at a time when the pandemic has hampered the economy goes to show how caring the community is, Stewart told Kamloops This Week, noting it is touching to see people she doesn’t even know made donations.
“All the support has been so overwhelming and beyond anything that I thought it would be,” said Stewart, who recently started working in the pediatrics unit at Royal Inland Hospital. She had worked as a registered nurse at the Nicola Valley Hospital in Merritt since she graduated nursing school at TRU three years ago.
The 25-year-old’s cancer diagnosis came within the past year.
Last spring, Stewart noticed a mole on her leg had changed and she had it removed. Test results revealed it to be melanoma.
As part of her follow-up treatment, she had a biopsy done this past February to determine if the cancer had spread into her lymph nodes, which it had.
Stewart’s first round of immunotherapy treatment was in March.
While she never thought this is where she would be 10 months after having the mole removed, Stewart said she has had a strong support system around her, thanks to parents and friends.
“It obviously hasn’t been rainbows and butterflies, but I feel very fortunate to have the support that I do have,” she said.
Stewart’s diagnosis came as a shock to everyone and she is faced with choices and costs at a time when she is unable to work due to the year of treatment she will need to travel out of town to receive, Ollek wrote on the GoFundMe page.
“When it comes to helping others or showing up for her friends, Jaylene is always there,” Ollek said in the post.
Ollek asked Stewart for permission to start the page on her behalf and Stewart said she was hesitant at first, given the tough financial times.
“I feel super lucky,” she said of the help she has since received.
Stewart must travel to Kelowna, where she will undergo a year of immunotherapy.
The donations she has received will help alleviate that expense, as well as the cost of certain medications she’s been prescribed that aren’t covered under her health care. Stewart is also considering using the funds to preserve some of her egg cells, given the unknown long-term effects of the treatment — an out-of-pocket expense and decision she said she never thought she would need to make.
Stewart said she feels lucky to be able to take time off from work and focus on treatment and recovery.
She said she will have to apply for Employment Insurance. Following treatment, she will enter a return-to-work program through Interior Health.
“As long as I’m feeling OK after my whole cycle’s finished, then I’ll go back to work, Stewart said.
She said she feels it important to shed a positive light on B.C.’s health-care system, noting she has had nothing but an exceptional experience with her surgeon, Dr. Christopher Baliski of Kelowna, and all the medical professionals she has come across at Kelowna General and Royal Inland hospitals.
“Everyone has been so kind and caring and It makes this whole process a little bit easier, and for that I’m so thankful,” Stewart told KTW. “I feel so lucky to have access to the health-care system that we do have.”