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Community rallies around Kentville teen battling cancer

Mother, daughter duo Barbara and Haylie Arenburg have been in the IWK Health Centre in Halifax since April 19. Haylie, an 18-year-old NKEC student, is undergoing treatments for leukemia.
Mother, daughter duo Barbara and Haylie Arenburg have been in the IWK Health Centre in Halifax since April 19. Haylie, an 18-year-old NKEC student, is undergoing treatments for leukemia.

KENTVILLE - Barbara Arenburg will never forget the frantic phone call she received from her teenage daughter April 19.

“It was really shocking news,” the Kentville resident said, adding that she immediately rushed home from work to be with her daughter, 18-year-old Haylie Arenburg.

“I don’t even remember driving home.”

In the days leading up to that numbing phone call, Barbara noticed that something seemed off about her daughter. Haylie, a social butterfly, seemed to tire easily. She started to lay low, often not wanting to do much.

“She’d get out of breath getting groceries.”

On April 11, Barbara started styling the back of her daughter’s long, thick hair for Haylie’s surprise birthday party at Boston Pizza, and she saw that it was noticeably thinner than usual.

“I thought there’s just something that’s not right,” recalled Barbara, adding that she suspected a vitamin deficiency or thyroid issue.

The actual diagnosis came the day Haylie – now technically classified as an adult – answered the phone call from a doctor with her test results.  The doctor advised Haylie to return to Valley Regional Hospital with her mother as soon as possible, but Haylie asked to hear the news right then.

She didn’t expect the diagnosis to be acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

“It was a total shock. Nothing like that even crossed our minds,” said Barbara.

“When Haylie called me she was frantic. She could hardly even talk.”

No time to waste

Mother and daughter have been living at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax since that traumatic day.

“They are phenomenal down here,” said Barbara, who vowed to stay by Haylie’s side as long as she needs her there.

“They are so compassionate.”

As of May 9, Haylie had endured ten days of chemotherapy treatments. At the end of the month, doctors will retest to determine if a bone marrow transplant will be required.

“They’re saying she’s doing really good, and she’s in high spirits,” said Barbara, who was amazed by Haylie’s strength the day her daughter decided to shave her head.

She said, ‘I’m going to get rid of my hair before the cancer takes it all.’”

Barbara offered to lop off her own locks to stand in solidarity with Haylie, but her daughter promptly indicated that that would not be necessary.

“She said, ‘No, because you’ll look weird,” she recalled with a laugh.

A caring community

There has been no shortage of tears shed following the diagnosis, but they find comfort in the people rallying around them in this difficult time. Friends, family and even complete strangers have been sending well wishes for Haylie, and they’re inspired by the stories shared by fellow leukemia survivors.

“Every day she’s had friends down here. One time I think there was 12 friends here,” she said, adding that Haylie is involved in the international student program at her school, Northeast Kings Education Centre (NKEC) in Canning.

“Haylie has friends in every part of the school… she’s got friends all over the world that she’s met from the international student program.”

Barbara, a single mother working multiple jobs, was touched to learn her co-worker, AVR radio personality Mike Surette, launched the Haylie Arenburg Medical Assistance GoFundMe page to help with the costs associated with medical expenses, transportation and missed work.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Barbara. “It shows how much the community really cares.”

Time will tell if Haylie, an honours with distinction student, is well enough to leave the hospital for prom and graduation. But one can dream.

“They said that possibly if the red blood cells come up and she’s feeling good and there’s no infection… they might let her out for a day pass for prom,” said Barbara.

“I hope she gets to go to both.”

 

If you go

There will be a silent auction on June 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Glooscap Arena in Canning. The event is being organized by some of Haylie Arenburg’s friends.  

 

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