'Just live': Advice from a terminal cancer patient weeks before his wedding
Darren Sawchuk is hoping to raise $40K on GoFundMe to pay for a treatment
Eleven months have passed since doctors told Darren Sawchuk he had up to a year to live, and he's still got big plans for the future.
The Winnipeg-based musician, vinyl record shop owner and former lawyer learned the cancer in his leg had spread to his lungs and was considered untreatable in March 2016.
It changed everything, he says.
"When you're given that news, and you've worked your whole life, and put in a lot of time into working for others … all of a sudden, it's like, what am I going to do for myself and the people around me and the people I love to make sure that I don't have any regrets?" he said.
Not long after his diagnosis, Sawchuk's home burned to the ground.
But he's still been busy working through a number of bucket-list-worthy tasks: he opened Vinyl Revival: Rock-School-Cafe; he watched his daughter get married; he travelled to Europe and Disneyland with his family; he continued performing in his Tragically Hip cover band, 59 Divide.
In March, he'll check off another one: he's getting married.
Hope on the horizon
After a few months spent travelling with his partner, Sawchuk said the pair wanted to honour their relationship and bring their families together. The wedding is set for March 4 and will be overseen by a close friend.
"We put it together relatively quickly because we don't know what direction my health is going to go in, and we want to have families [to] have an opportunity to celebrate our relationship," he said.
There's also reason to be hopeful regarding his health. After lobbying his doctor, Sawchuk recently had the first treatment of Keytruda, an immunotherapy medication used to treat cancer in the U.S. that hasn't been approved by Health Canada for use on the type of cancer Sawchuk has.
The drug costs around $10,000 per treatment and Sawchuk will need four treatments in total. In an effort to raise funds, he revisited a GoFundMe account a friend set up for him last year to pay for DNA typing.
This time around, Sawchuk said the campaign raised around $20,000 in a week, halfway to his goal.
He said the experience has brought him "full circle" with people he's helped out and cared for in his life, from a former client in custody in Ontario for a double homicide who called to offer him a lung, to an old friend from high school who became an invaluable support.
"You talk about life-changing things that happen — and what has happened in the last year is that people that I had lost contact with for a long time, old friends from high school, and I've made lots of new friend through my record store, and family that's really rallied around us," he said.
Sawchuk said he's learned a lot about cancer in the past year.
"What I've learned is that the people around you share in the diagnosis," he said. "My parents, [my fiancée] Loralie, my kids, my siblings, close friends. Everybody is affected by this kind of diagnosis — the grief, the fear."
For other cancer patients, Sawchuk's advice is to do research and be their own advocates. For everybody else, he has some advice, too.
"I guess there's a few lessons. One is a retrospective one for those who may think they could have an issue. Don't sit on it. Get it tested, because catching it early on gives you a chance of survival," he said.
"Secondly … if you're told that you have a certain amount of time to live, live. Just live. Because you don't know when the rug gets pulled out from under you and you can no longer do the things that you want to do."
Sawchuk is planning to host a fundraising event in March.