Hey fam, this week on the blog we have a very special guest blog from our friends at Kids Cancer Care. Recently we partnered with the team at Kids Cancer Care to create a custom Giving Toque to share the story of the 'Derek Bear'. 

Continue to scroll to learn more about this touching story from Christine McIver, CEO of Kids Cancer Care and the story about her son Derek and how the now, Derek Bear, came to fruition...get your kleenexes ready. 

Let's dive into it!

When I walk the halls at work, I am reminded of all that we have accomplished over the years. There are photos of children smiling at camp, artwork created at our programs and dedicated rooms for education support and therapeutic exercise - all for children affected by cancer. 

I am proud to be the founder and CEO of Kids Cancer Care, the most amazing organization. An amazing organization inspired by the most amazing boy, my son Derek. 

The journey to where we are today began on Christmas Eve 1986. I found myself in the waiting room of the ICU at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, staring at a Christmas tree. A neurosurgeon had just removed a tumour, the size of a mandarin orange, from Derek’s brain. I kept thinking to myself, “This can’t be real.” He was only five and he had medulloblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. 

When he woke two days later, Derek could not walk, talk or see. Numerous doses of radiation, daily physiotherapy and occupational therapy followed for Derek. 

Derek’s brain tumour paralyzed the right side of his face, leaving him with a crooked little smile. That crooked smile bothered him so much. Whenever I asked if he could have anything in the world, his response was always, “to be able to smile on both sides again.” Derek’s smile represented normalcy to him. 

During his journey with cancer, he endured excruciatingly painful treatments, while putting on a brave face. 

Once again on Christmas Eve in 1990, my world shattered. It was then that Derek’s doctor told me that the experimental treatment was not working and there was nothing more they could do. We agreed to end his treatment.

Derek died at home in my arms on April 26, 1991, just months before his 10th birthday. It was my sweet little boy who inspired me to make sure no family had to walk this journey alone and to give every child affected by cancer the best possible future. Back then our organization was just a handful of volunteers in my basement.

Now, Kids Cancer Care is one of the largest, non-governmental childhood cancer research funders in the country. In a standard year, we offer more than 20 year-round and summer camp and outreach programs, along with an education support program and services to Alberta families. We are one of only a handful of charities in North America dedicated to supporting the entire continuum of childhood cancer, fighting the disease on all fronts, with laughter at camp, the best treatments at the hospital and innovative science in the lab and brighter futures through education support and post-secondary scholarships. 

If I could do it all over again, I would change only one thing. It would be to have built Kids Cancer Care without having to lose my son — that beautiful little boy with the curly, blond hair and a lively spirit and sense of humour that would light up rooms. I see the world now through his eyes and joy behind every crooked little smile.

It is his memory that gets me out of bed every morning, determined to do more for children like him. Some days it’s harder than others – and this year has been especially trying. We need the support of our community, now more than ever. That’s why partners like Local Laundry are so incredibly important. 

In the fall, they came to us with an idea to create special Giving Toques to be sold with proceeds back to Kids Cancer Care. All we needed was a unique design.

We knew exactly whose image needed to be on the front of our special toques… someone with a crooked smile that would light up the world this Christmas.

Here at our office, we have a beautiful mural featuring a momma bear and a baby bear. My camp name has always been Crazy Bear, so the bears represent myself and my baby boy. The baby bear has a crooked smile and features Derek’s aviator glasses and a crooked smile. It was beautifully created for us by graphic designer and long-term supporter Edwin Herrenschmidt. We took that image and created the Derek Bear Giving Toque. 

Within twelve days of being on sale, we sold 150 toques with Derek Bear’s image on. I’m blown away by the support of our volunteers, staff and families – all of whom purchased this special edition toque in honour of Derek and all families affected by childhood cancer. 

Derek would be thrilled, proud and totally mystified that people would wear his image. It’s so him. It’s captured his spirit. 

I hope that everyone enjoys the spirit of the holiday, filled with joy, health, happiness, and hope for the new year. 

— Christine McIver, M.S.M., LLD (Hon), CFRE, Founder and Chief Executive Officer Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta