Nick Vandenberg has lived and worked in Prince Rupert for more than 40 years. He has been a millwright and a member of the union, worked at the pulp mill, been a handyman jack-of-all-trades, and then as a fisherman for the past 20 years. He has raised his children in the city and met his wife Margo here. He owns a family home in Prince Rupert. He has two grown sons and a 16-year-old son still living at home, a 9-year-old granddaughter also lives with them. He is truly Prince Rupert.
Now all he wants is to be able to die here.
On Oct. 14th Nick was diagnosed with leukemia. Two weeks later further tests and scans showed stage four stomach cancer, which has since spread to other organs and is now in his lungs. The prognosis was just over three months to live. As well as these conditions Nick is currently battling pneumonia and on antibiotics in a hospital eight hours away.
To top off the dire situation the critically ill city resident does not have any medical insurance or health coverage, his wife Margo said. This is due to not having worked for a while and the health premiums are paid by the union only when members work.
Nick is currently in Prince George Hospital undergoing radiation treatment. This treatment holds no hope of curing his cancer or putting him in remission, Margo said. He is undergoing the treatment only in an attempt to shrink the stomach tumour enough so he can eat and live to Christmas Eve. This is the date he is gathering all his family together here in Prince Rupert, and his large family in Australia via zoom, to celebrate love and finally have his wedding dance with his new bride.
Even though the couple has been together for more than 20 years, Margo told The Northern View they just got married on Dec. 9th. To celebrate, which is in ironic contrast to his bucket list, all Nick wants is to own and wear his first suit, spend a night in the Crest Hotel, and to fix the badly leaking roof on their house. Cancer has disabled Nick so he can’t fix it himself and the leak is so bad Margo has thought to try repairs on her own.
However, Margo said she is uncertain if his bucket list will ever be. Being a fisherman he has been too ill to work. The boat is docked and there is no income to complete his last wishes.
Margo had just started a new job in September at the LNG plant in Kitimat when they received the diagnosis. With the medical trips back and forth to Prince George, she hasn’t been able to work for the past four weeks. She hasn’t completed 90 days on the job and is certain she will not have employment come January.
“I’m off till January 15th, but I have a feeling that I won’t be going back because Nick doesn’t have long to live,” she said crying. “And I know they’re just gonna let me go.”
Initially, the couple drove to the cancer centre in Prince George. Now, with the shorter days leading into even longer dark nights, winter weather, and Nick’s deteriorating condition Margo is not confident driving the distance. She doesn’t have a vehicle in Prince George and has to walk everywhere. On this last trip, she said they used the medical bus to get to PG, and will use it to come home on the 20th. The bus is uncomfortable and she doesn’t know if they can do it again.
On Dec.12 after arriving in Prince George following an exhausting day of travel across the province, Nick became too ill with pain to stay in their accommodation. He needed to be taken to the hospital in the middle of the night. Margo was not permitted in the ambulance with him. She caught a taxi to the hospital, but when she got there she was not permitted in because of COVID-19. She sat outside the hospital begging to be let in, to no avail. In the icy cold, frightened and alone with no one to reassure or help her she just sat there and cried, she said.
“I’ve asked for many prayers from prayer warriors to help strengthen us because my belief is strong enough. That’s all I ask right now is that prayer warriors come out and help us. Help me with this,” she said.
Margo said she is completely alone in Prince George and doesn’t know anyone. A stranger to her, but a friend of a friend took her out today and drove her around for a bit as she hasn’t yet done any Christmas shopping.
The original Go Fund Me (click on link) donations which are displayed on the campaign page of just more than $5,400 have already been used on travel, accommodations, and medications for Nick, Margo said. The campaign, which was set up on Nov. 19 has come to a standstill and she doesn’t know what to do.
She recently heard of an online silent auction where fundraising can be done, however, at the moment she is overwhelmed with circumstance and focused on caring for her husband as well as worrying for her children in Prince Rupert who need care.
While undergoing blood transfusions, radiation treatment, and being on antibiotics for pneumonia, Margo said Nick is so lonely in hospital. He is not allowed any visitors and can only talk to her on the phone. Margo walks every day in the snow and ice to the hospital just to wave at him while he is waiting for his radiation treatment. Sometimes they can steal a few minutes together before treatment starts.
“They only let me in for a few seconds to see him when he’s in radiation while he’s waiting to get it done. So I just kind of sneak in there and go see him because I miss him so much.”
“It’s so hard to even believe this is actually happening because it only started in October. It’s hard to believe that he’s only got three to six months of his life.” Margo said. “I don’t know how to take that all in. I become a wreck in this room over thinking about him alone in there. What if something’s going on? It’s been horrible. I’ve been begging, begging anyone to listen to me, the social worker, the cancer agency, anybody, somebody, so I can get in to see my husband. I’m just falling on deaf ears. Because of the COVID, they will not budge.”
Margo said she is living a nightmare and doesn’t know how to escape, and while the big things like finances and treatments are upsetting, so are the smaller things.
“My husband has brought me coffee every single day for 20 years when he was home. I’ve got so used to him bringing me my coffee. I told him I just can’t imagine life without him,” she said through tears.
“Nick said that if he’s going to die, he wants to do that at home in Prince Rupert. So, that’s our goal now, so we can bring him back so that I can take care of him at home,” Margo said.
Due to the loneliness and desperation of the situation, Nick has already left the hospital once. With no income, mounting bills, no family around him, constant physical pain, and mental anguish at just having to get through each day alone, Margo said all Nick wants is to come back to Prince Rupert where he can dance his last dance and say goodbye before closing his eyes.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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