On March 29, I visited Leanne Jimenez at the Palliative Care unit of St. Boniface Hospital. I had a brief but very enjoyable chat with her.
While scrambling to find how to get to Leanne’s hospital bed, I came across a Filipino staff who told me the way. We chatted for a minute, she knew very well about Leanne because of 204FM. It was my first time to visit a patient in Palliative Care at St. Boniface Hospital. Unlike the lower levels at said building, the entire floor designated for cancer patients at end-of-life phase is designed like a five star hotel.
Leanne was awake and alone in her room. She was not in pain perhaps because she was heavily medicated. I introduced myself to her, “Leanne I am Tita Leila. I am Jackee’s mom, she is your friend from Sisler High School.” Smiling, Leanne warmly responded in soft and gentle voice, “Of course I know her, Tita. How is she?”. In the next 20 minutes we enjoyably talked about many things as if we had known each other for long. Despite being heavily drugged for pain, surprisingly her brain was sharp. She also had an incredible appetite. I brought her 10 sticks of isaw from Hot Rod’s Grill. She consumed half of them before I left her hospital room. As I walked away, her beautiful face remained embedded on my mind.
Leanne’s stage 4 sarcoma was detected one month before she passed away. For four years, she endured a large tumor on her right leg. The cancer originated from said tumor and had spread to the tissues on her belly and chest and caused her early death at 18.
Since Leanne’s family migrated to Winnipeg they had always been happy and blessed, until the year 2013 when a lump diagnosed to be Lymphangioma started to grow on Leanne’s right leg. A surgeon was assigned to attend to Leanne for this condition. Initially the lump was the size smaller than a tennis ball. By 2015 or two years after, it was already the size of a cereal bowl. Jessie (Leanne’s father) was already worried that it might be cancer and aired that concern to the surgeon. Still no further tests were done on Leanne. Alarmed by the rate that the lump was growing, Jessie started bringing up to Leanne’s surgeon about performing operation to remove the tumor. The surgeon explained about the risk of Leanne losing her leg if in the process a major artery is hit. Despite the risk, Leanne was still willing to undergo the operation. But it was not granted.
Leanne also started to feel some pain. She was rushed to the ER many times due to severe pain, however she was always sent home and even accused of faking the pain in order to have access to drugs. After another one and a half years, Leanne’s condition had greatly deteriorated. On May of 2016, Jessie sought help from the MP for North Winnipeg Kevin Lemoureaux’s in escalating Leanne’s health case that never progressed. In a meeting that happened on same month attended by doctors and CFS, Leanne’s surgeon said that she will be referred to specialists in Toronto or Montreal. Nothing materialized on the next five months.
Instead, the surgeon told Leanne’s parents to wait until she turns 18 (by December 11, 2016) so the responsibility could be transferred to the Adult Department.
Devastated from what was heard from the surgeon, Leanne’s parents immediately talked to the family doctor, and they were referred to another surgeon. The new surgeon checked on Leanne and was so worried that she may not be able to walk again. Leanne was immediately referred to specialists in Toronto. Last January Leanne and her parents went to Toronto for the check up on how her Lymphatic Malformation will be removed. Shortly after that, they received a call informing them about Leanne’s scheduled operation for May 2017.
On March 2017, while in the bathroom Leanne started screaming in agonizing pain as she felt that a bone in her spine cracked. The 911 personnel had a hard time transferring her to the hospital because even a slight vibration in the vehicle was causing her tremendous pain. The attending physician at the ER was suspicious of the large tumor. An x-ray was immediately done.
The x-ray result revealed that Leanne already had stage 4 sarcoma. It originated from the tumor at her right leg, and had already spread to the tissues on her chest and abdomen. Sarcoma is a rare kind of cancer that grow in connective tissue – cells that connect or support other kinds of tissue in the body.
After a week Leanne was transferred to St. Boniface Palliative care but only for pain management as according to her oncologist, it was too late for cancer treatment. It was very hard for the family to accept that in the coming days, Leanne will just be provided with end-of-life care. They looked for alternative treatment options and sought financial help through Gofundme. Financial assistance and prayers were offered for her from the Filipino community in Winnipeg.
On April 15, the afternoon before Easter, Leanne lost her battle with cancer.
On the day of Leanne’s burial, there was a necrological mass held at St. Peter’s Church in the morning before everyone proceeded to Assumption Cemetery at Portage Avenue. It was a cold spring morning that felt chillier because of strong winds. Relatives and friends stood in silence trying to contain the extreme pain and sadness while Leanne’s mother wailed in grief and repeatedly shouted Leanne’s name.
For four years Leanne went through unimaginable sufferings — from severe pain caused by undiagnosed cancer, to having to carry a large and heavy tumor that caused her cracked spine and badly hurt self esteem. To her family, relatives and friends, had Leanne been given proper medical attention early on, it would have been a different story.