Edmonton·Video

Four years later, Fight A Monster campaign restarts to help founder with incurable cancer

The Fight A Monster, Buy A Monster campaign has been relaunched, but this time it's to help its founder who was diagnosed with cancer.

In 2013, Julie Rohr sold pictures her son drew of monsters that symbolized cancer

After four years, Max Rice started drawing monsters again. He once sold the drawings to raise money for a family dealing with cancer, but now Max's own mom has been diagnosed with an incurable cancer. 1:34

A woman who sold her son's drawings of monsters four years ago to raise money for a family battling cancer has now been diagnosed with incurable cancer.

In 2013, four-year-old Max Rice used a black marker to draw monsters on white canvas. Each monster was different, with a unique back story that Max made up on the spot.

"He's a mean one, and he lives in space," he said at the time of one monster. "He's bigger than the Earth."

Max Rice, 9, draws monsters with his mother, Julie Rohr, in their home. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The drawings were inspired by a conversation about cancer Max had with his mother, Julie Rohr. Her grandfather died of cancer around that time, and Rohr described it as a mean monster. The drawings were her son's visualizations of the disease.

Family friends Amber MacNeil and her daughter, Kyla, were dealing with cancer diagnoses. Rohr started the Fight A Monster, Buy A Monster campaign to raise money for the family by taking donations and selling Max's drawings.

They raised close to $13,000. Half the money went to the MacNeil family, while the other half was donated to leukemia research.

A lot has changed since then.

Two years ago, Rohr was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer.

"I've gone through several major, major surgeries," she said. "I've had organs removed. I've had all kinds of testing and observation. It's been a very different reality than my life was four and half years ago."

Max Rice draws a picture of a monster in November 2013, while his mother, Julie Rohr, looks on. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The 35-year-old was told by doctors her cancer is incurable. She hasn't been able to work while undergoing appointments and surgeries, so she's been doing a lot of research.

"It's a very aggressive cancer. So we want to start treatment as soon as possible."

She has been accepted to take part in a medical trial at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. It combines a humanized antibody and a chemotherapy medication, with the hopes of stopping the growth of tumour cells in patients with advanced sarcoma.

Rohr estimates the treatment will cost more than $100,000.

At the request of friends, family and neighbours, the Fight A Monster campaign is starting up again. On March 16, a launch party for the campaign will be held at the Laurier Heights Community Hall.

"I think she's made such an impact for our neighbourhood," said Allison Boileeu, a neighbour helping to organize the fundraiser. "And just knowing the type of people that live in our neighbourhood, it really takes a village, whether it's to look after a child or look after each other." 

Julie Rohr, 35, watches as her son draws pictures of monsters. She was diagnosed with an incurable cancer two years ago. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Some of Max's original drawings will be on sale. He has also started new ones, with more detail and similar creative names, such as Very Hairy Monster and the Three-Eyed Monster.

The meaning behind the drawings is even more dear to Max this time.

"I know that I'm not just helping everyone, but I'm also helping my mom." - Max Rice

"I know that I'm not just helping everyone, but I'm also helping my mom," said Max, who is now nine years old.

"It's personal for him now," Rohr said. "It's his own mom that's going through this journey now. It's a new fire under him."

A picture drawn by Max Rice in 2013 sits in the foreground while he draws a new picture. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Some of the money raised will go to researching leiomyosarcoma.

"This is also about awareness and raising the profile of a rare cancer," Rohr said. "When one person in one million people have a cancer, there's not much funding going to research cures or research drugs, or research treatment of any kind."

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

@Travismcewancbc

About the Author

Travis McEwan

Videojournalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who has not won any awards. Originally from Churchill, Manitoba, he's spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca