Helping children, and fighting cancer fuel Maple Ridge top citizen

Jan Hickman helped start Canuck Place Children’s Hospice

Jan Hickman was devastated when she found out her son, at 15, had cancer.

He was active in sports and one of his calf muscles was swollen and wouldn’t go down in size.

Hickman and her husband thought he had just pulled it until their family doctor sent him for an X-ray.

Within hours, the doctor called back and told them to take their son to B.C. Children’s Hospital, downtown Vancouver.

When they got to the hospital, doctors there said they suspected her son Brent had cancer and needed to know where the disease had spread.

Hickman kept thinking, “not my child.”

He was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, or bone cancer, the same cancer that Terry Fox had, and within days he started chemotherapy.

That was June 1989.

Brent had his left leg amputated from half way down his thigh.

He will turn 45 soon and was at Meadows Gardens Golf Club last weekend to hug his mom as she received the 2019 Citizen of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award from the Maple Ridge Community Foundation.

Hickman said after that despite all her son has been through, he’s never had a bad day.

“I can honestly say, he’s my hero.”

It was because of him – and all the help he received – that she decided to dedicate her life to community service.

One of her first forays into giving was at B.C. Children’s Hospital, where she saw a need to counsel other parents with children who had cancer.

She met a nurse there who told her that Vancouver needed a hospice for sick children, modeled one in England.

So Hickman helped the nurse by fundraising. A house was donated by a family in Shaughnessy and the pair fundraised to retrofit it to suit the children’s needs.

Then the Vancouver Canucks became involved and it became Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.

When Brent became involved with The War Amps, so did Hickman.

Then at 17, he was asked to join a ski team and Hickman fundraised for that, too, by putting on barn dances.

“It just evolves,” said Hickman.

Cancer touched her family again, this time her husband, who passed away in 2008. It was prostate cancer.

Before that, Hickman’s best friend Nancy Wall, passed away in 2000 from breast cancer.

That same year Hickman produced a cook book called The Best of Christmas to benefit the fight against breast cancer, raising around $5,000 for the cause.

Hickman was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1998. She had noticed that her Adam’s apple was large, but ignored it until her friends noticed that it was growing.

She sought treatment. The cancer was contained and the tumour removed.

“So, I was always running golf tournaments for cancers and this and that,” said Hickman, who was born in Holland and immigrated to Canada at the age of six.

Every year she goes back to Holland and participates in a bike ride to raise money to fight cancer.

She also took part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a two-day event where participants used to ride from Vancouver to Seattle benefiting the B.C. Cancer Foundation. Now riders go from Vancouver to Hope.

Brent, who has participated in triathlons, offered to ride with her in 2008, as did her daughter and two god-children, whose parents both died of cancer, as well.

The team of eight raised $40,000.

The roughly 230 kilometre ride was the most difficult thing Hickman said she has ever done.

In addition to raising money for cancer, Hickman also has a passion for charities supporting women and children.

She is an ambassador for Alisa’s Wish, an organization that supports children and youth in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Katzie First Nation who have experienced or witnessed physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Members connect counsellors, RCMP, social workers and other support services to ensure victims are not reliving trauma by having to tell their abuse stories over and over again.

“This means that these children don’t have to retell their story several times and in sometimes intimidating venues,” said Hickman.

Another charity big on her list is the Meadow Ridge Rotary’s Brown Bag Lunch program, which is supported by the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries.

Hickman, a Rotarian, was “appalled” when she heard that there were children in this community that were going to school without lunch. She learned of the need about eight years ago, when her grandson, who was five at the time, told her that he was sharing his lunch at school with children who didn’t have one.

To date, Hickman said the program feeds 189 children lunch every day at schools across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Hickman was nominated for Citizen of the Year award by Treena Innes, executive director of Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice, an organization that provides support to local physicians and enables primary care in the community. Hickman has also hosted Rotary Ladies Night, she has served on the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation and the Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice.

“Jan’s connections, commitment to giving of her time, and community support are highly respected with her peers,” read a release by the Community Foundation about the award winners.

“Over the past few decades, thousands of Maple Ridge residents have been touched by Jan’s giving nature and volunteer work.”

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