His wife lost her cancer battle, but donors gave them hope and time

Edmond Chan became a donor champion and advocate as he cared for his wife, Christina, during her 17-year cancer battle

June 17, 2021
Husband and wife seated together on an armchair next to a window

In 2003, Edmond Chan’s wife, Christina, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and she embarked on a 17-year journey of treatments for the disease. She received blood and platelet transfusions, other blood products and two stem cell transplants. She also underwent many procedures and surgeries. Christina’s cancer experience inspired Edmond to share their story, in appreciation of the vital role donors play in Canada’s Lifeline.

Edmond Chan met his wife, Christina Law, at John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C. They were high school sweethearts and dated for 10 years before they got married in 2001.

In 2003, the couple’s world was turned upside down when Christina was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

“I remember when she got her diagnosis; we didn’t ask doctors about her odds of survival or how much time we had,” says Edmond. “We were told about the course of treatment and that we didn’t have any time to waste.”

Christina was rushed into Vancouver General Hospital on the day of her diagnosis. Within two days she was on a heavy chemotherapy regimen, and for more than a year she received numerous blood and platelet transfusions as part of her treatment. With the care Christina received, it appeared that she had beaten her cancer.

Cancer returns

In 2012, after almost a full decade in remission, Christina was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome. “Her leukemia didn’t come back in full form, but her second diagnosis was pre-leukemia,” says Edmond.

Doctors concluded that Christina would need a stem cell transplant. There were no potential donor matches within her family, so Christina had to rely on a donation from someone she didn’t know.

About 25 per cent of patients waiting for a stem cell transplant will find a match within their family. The rest, 75 per cent of all patients, must rely on the generosity of an unrelated volunteer donor to save their lives.

Fortunately, a match was found, and Christina received a stem cell transplant in November 2012.

The transplant worked well for the next year, but then signs of trouble appeared in her blood work. Doctors advised that if Christina were to stay the course, continuing with her existing maintenance treatments, she would have only a few months to live, or at most a couple of years. But the doctors also offered the possibility of a second stem cell transplant.

Tough decision

Compared with her initial cancer diagnosis in 2003, this time Christina had more specific details about her prognosis, especially what would happen if she didn’t proceed with a second stem cell transplant.

Having experienced the first stem cell transplant, Christina and Edmond knew the road ahead would be difficult if she was to undergo another transplant.

“The options before us were to let things be or to try for another shot at beating cancer. But we knew how excruciating the whole process would be, which literally involved bringing Christina to the brink of death. It was a tough decision, but she decided to try again.”

Even though she was open to receiving a second stem cell transplant, Christina’s doctors were uncertain whether they’d be able to find another suitable donor. Late 2013 was a dark and difficult period for the couple.

Acceptance, grieving and helping others

While they waited for a second match, Edmond and Christina, then both aged 37, prepared their wills and purchased their final resting place at a nearby cemetery. They were hopeful they might still grow old together, but the couple accepted the reality that one of them would go first.

In August 2012, they had started a blog, and it became a healing outlet where they could share hospital updates, appointments and events from Christina’s cancer journey with family in town and overseas.

“By then [late 2012], we were used to sharing what was going on with us on the blog. We also felt it might help causes close to our hearts by increasing awareness of how to become a donor and of how important blood, stem cell and financial donors are.”

Donor advocate and champion

A devoted partner, Edmond remained by Christina’s side, took her to appointments and continued to care for her throughout the years. Her cancer journey and her need for blood products became the motivation for his regular blood donations and advocacy.

During Christina’s illness, Edmond became the Partners for Life Champion at Boeing Vancouver, where he has worked since 2002. He raised awareness about how to become a donor and organized group blood donations for his colleagues. Christina’s story provided them with a reason to donate blood.

“Many of my co-workers rallied around me when they heard our story. It’s been heartwarming to realize that my efforts to support my wife and other patients may have made a difference in bringing in new donors.”

Edmond is still the Partners for Life champion for his employer, even though he started working from home in early 2020 so that he could help take care of Christina. By chance, Edmond’s shift to working from home to help meet Christina’s medical needs coincided with the onset of COVID-19.

“With COVID, I haven’t been able to organize blood drives, but I also haven’t stopped donating blood. I call myself a serial donor. I donate blood every eight weeks. I tell people it’s literally one of the easiest acts of giving.”

The enhanced safety measures that Canadian Blood Services put into place in response to COVID-19 reassured Edmond he could continue to donate regularly during Christina’s cancer battle.

“I’m a scientific person. I never doubted that the safety protocols Canadian Blood Services has in place are there to protect everyone on site. I never hesitated to continue donating blood during COVID-19, and I’m relieved that others continued to donate, too.”

Edmond Chan, in a baseball cap, stands by a tree holding a toque with ‘be a hero’ written across the front

Edmond Chan, shown in Vancouver in May 2021, continues to advocate for blood and stem cell donors

Second chance

A stem cell match for Christina was eventually found, and in August 2014 she had a second stem cell transplant, through the generosity of another unrelated donor.

Christina experienced many struggles in the years that followed. She underwent further procedures and surgeries and regularly received a blood product derived from plasma called immunoglobulin.

“Christina was always in some form of maintenance treatment, mostly to deal with post-transplant side effects. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. We also had a lot of good times and experiences together, including a vacation in 2017,” says Edmond.

The couple marked Edmond’s milestone donations together and reaching his 100th donation was a special goal toward which he and Christina were counting down.

Sadly, the consequences and complications of leukemia and its treatments became too much for Christina and she died in September 2020. Although she was unable to be with him for the milestone, in February 2021 Edmond celebrated his 100th donation in her honour.

“Donating blood is one of the easiest ways for me to give back a little and honour the memories of my beloved wife, Christina.”

Man donates blood with Canadian Blood Services sign on his lap

Edmond honoured his late wife, Christina, with his 100th donation in February 2021

Special delivery

In April, several months after Christina’s death, Edmond was going through personal belongings in their closet when he made a surprise discovery. He found a specially wrapped package with a message that Christina had left for him.

Christmas cards, symbols of love displayed on a bed sheet

In April, Edmond discovered a keepsake that Christina made for him in 2013

Love message found inside an envelope sent from a wife to her husband

Christina left a gesture of love for her husband, Edmond, in keeping with her charm and kindness

“It’s been hidden away all this time, but one of Christina’s co-workers told me about a conversation they had years ago in which Christina mentioned a keepsake that she would leave for me in case she passed.

“We worked out the time frame, and I’m confident Christina put it together back in 2013, when we were starting to accept the possibility we might not grow old together. Yet we still enjoyed seven more years together after that.”

In late June 2021, Edmond and Christina would have celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary and 30 years as a couple.

“Finding her gift reminded me of how thoughtful and courageous she was. It also reminded me of how she and I approached things, and how I continue to approach things. Every day is a gift.

“I’m grateful to the donors who helped us throughout Christina’s cancer journey. And I’ll always tell others about how to become a donor and how donors provide hope to patients and their loved ones.”

Donors are essential to meeting the needs of patients in Canada. To learn how you can help and to book an appointment, download the GiveBlood app, call 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283) or book now at blood.ca.

This National Blood Donor Week we celebrate the vital role of all donors who help us support patients. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your many contributions. We hope you will continue to support Canada’s Lifeline and spread the word about all ways to donate.

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