With a little help from her friends: Residents rally to finance critical surgery

Matt Gardner
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Canada’s universal health care system is predicated on the idea that no one should be denied treatment because of their inability to pay.

Friends of Esquire II owner Quincy Kokoski -- pictured here with her husband Kevin and daughters Kristyn, 14, and Kara, 17 -- have banded together to help raise money for her to travel to London, Ontario for life-saving surgery.

Unfortunately, reality can often fall short of that ideal.

Quincy Kokoski, the owner of Esquire II Stylist, suffers from Von-Hippel Landau disease, a hereditary condition that predisposes people to benign and malignant tumours. She has had tumours in the past that were safely removed.

But when doctors discovered cancerous tumours on both her kidneys in August, Kokoski learned that treatment would be more difficult this time around.

“They want to do what they call a partial nephrectomy,” she said. “And that can’t be done here in Saskatchewan, so they’re sending me to Ontario.”

Unfortunately, a trip to Ontario for prolonged surgery does not come cheaply. As Kokoski began tallying the cost of transportation, hotels and food, it became clear that the only way she would be able to afford the trip would be if she went alone.

It was at this point that Kokoski’s friends stepped into the fray. Her longtime bookkeeper Susan Polowski took the lead.

“Quincy’s been my client since 1998,” Polowski said. “So I’ve known Quincy a long time … She had to drop off her books late this month, so I phoned her to remind her and she just kind of broke down and told me what was going on.”

When Polowski asked how Kokoski could afford the added expense of bringing her husband Kevin to London to keep her company, the mother of two said she simply couldn’t afford it.

“My heart went out to her,” Polowski recalled. “I said to her, 'D(id) your friends or anyone come up with the idea of doing a fundraiser for you? Because lots of people do it.' And she said … a couple people talked about it … but everybody’s busy this time of year.

“I just decided if it was me and my husband couldn’t go with me, I would definitely be appreciative if someone would help me out. So I just jumped … I had (my husband) write the letter, I told him the story and got Quincy to give me a picture and it went from there.”

Drawing on her fundraising skills, Polowski recruited acquaintances to wage an all-out effort to raise as much money as possible in the two weeks before Kokoski had to travel to London for a pre-op.

Borrowing a tradition of her five-pin bowling team, Polowski came up with the idea of having a steak dinner to raise money. The dinner and silent auction will take place on Dec. 5 at Zorba’s Restaurant from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

What we would like is for the government to actually pay some of the cost for people who need to out of province. Nicole Panas

Polowski and her husband created a flyer with information on Kokoski and her situation, and family and friends went to local businesses to post flyers, ask for donations and sell silent auction tickets. They also relied on word-of-mouth and Facebook to spread awareness.

One of Kokoski’s closest friends, Nicole Panas, looked for support from local hair stylists.

“I’ve gone around to all the other hair salons, because she’s a hairdresser, and told them that a fellow hairdresser needs help,” Panas said. “They’ve all been really good donating stuff and buying tickets …

“Quincy’s … very involved in her community, and when you’re involved in the community and as involved as she is, people want to help you too, because she gives so much and everyone wants to give back to her.”

Reflecting the selfless nature described by acquaintances, Kokoski was initially embarrassed by all the fuss.

While clearly grateful for the support of friends and family, an emotional Kokoski expressed concern for those in the same situation who do not receive the same help.

“I know there’s other people who need surgeries who have to go to other places,” she said. “I’m lucky because I have these friends in the community who stepped up to help. But I … worry for those people who don’t have extra help.”

Her friends echoed those concerns.

“What we would like is for the government to actually pay some of the cost for people who need to go out of province,” Panas said. “The fact that people have to pay money to go out of province because there’s only two doctors in Canada that will (perform this operation) is unreal.”

In the meantime, Kokoski’s friends and family will do all they can to help ease her financial burden.

Describing her friend’s strength, Panas drew a comparison with Kokoski’s status as the “ultimate (Saskatchewan Roughriders) fan.”

“She’s always supported the Riders and I’m hoping that she’s just as strong with this as she has been in her support of the Riders,” Panas said.

“She’s a fighter, and I’m just praying that she makes it because we can’t be without her. She’s one of a kind.”

Organizations: Raiders

Geographic location: Ontario, London, Saskatchewan Canada

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