Not many people have two birthdays, but Joan Dudoward has joined the ranks of those who have accomplished the feat.
On Feb. 11, 2011, Dudoward underwent a bone marrow transplant at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) to treat leukemia that she had developed prior. The doctors and nurses, who were very silent during the procedure, she recalled, were jubilant after everything had gone well and Dudoward had been closely monitored.
“It was kind of scary,” she said last week. “There were several doctors in the room just kind of watching and not saying a word.”
That nervous energy became ecstasy when Dudoward learned that she had beaten the cancer and is currently in the clear.
“They told me I get another birthday because that’s my rebirth – Feb. 11,” she said, adding her normal birthday is more than a month before, Jan. 12.
“A Capricorn!” she exclaimed, beaming.
Dudoward’s story gets even more incredible. As a First Nations woman, she was told that finding a blood-type match for her own would be a challenge in the database of blood matches available.
Her brother tried to donate, but wasn’t a match. So Dudoward waited.
Then, the doctors found a match, but the identity of the person who donated his blood that matched perfectly with Dudoward’s could not be revealed for a full two years.
“So we waited the two years and then they phoned me from Vancouver on National Aboriginal Day and they told me his name,” she said.
Out of the entire Canadian blood registry, Dudoward’s donor lived 10 minutes away from her in Port Edward. His name was Charles Wilson, or “Chuck,”
“So I phoned him up and said ‘Hi, happy Aboriginal Day. This is the woman who’s life you saved.’ We were both overwhelmed. I couldn’t even speak, I was almost crying,” Dudoward said.
“I met him and his wife — they’re amazing, amazing, amazing people … I took them out for dinner and gave them a gift and thanked them, but it’s just not enough.”
Dudoward and her daughter Natasha (she is more often known as “Natasha’s mom” than Joan) are part of the closely-knit Relay for Life team, CityWest Tumornators. This year will mark the third that Joan and Natasha take part together in the team that last year, raised the second-highest fundraising totals out of all Prince Rupert teams that went toward cancer research. Natasha was a huge part in raising the money.
“I’m really proud of her,” Joan said.
Joan helps her mother, a “sharp as a tack” 95-year-old throughout the day, so she may not be able to take in all of the day’s festivities, but she will be there in spirit, walking with the dozens of cancer survivors and supporters at the May 27 event.
“I have a good friend, George Hills that passed away from cancer and a very dear cousin by marriage, Vic Bekeroff. I always write their names on the [luminaries],” she said.
Mostly, Dudoward just wants to show people that it can get better and not to lose hope if they’ve been diagnosed with cancer.
“I want to get the word out for people to donate blood, because you can save lives, I’m living proof” she said.
“Keep positive and keep your sense of humour throughout – anything that gets you through it. [I think of] all the prayers that went out for me too. Prayers are amazing, they’re very powerful.”
The Tumornators will be watching the weather forecast and hoping for the same gorgeous weather Rupert had last week in the May event. But even if there is rain, that won’t deter Dudoward.
“If it rains, we’ll just dance in the rain.”