After Edmonton teacher and father of two Darrin Park had a seizure in December 2011, he went to the hospital expecting to be diagnosed with something minor.
Instead, Park was told there was a massive tumour in his brain and he likely had just months to live.
“I looked at the CT scan and there was a big black circle that’s supposed to be my brain,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh that’s all tumour. Cool.’”
Park was officially diagnosed with a rare form of primary T-cell central nervous system lymphoma, and had a tumour “like an octopus deep in the brain.” Faced with a grim prognosis – and the unthinkable option of leaving behind his wife and two young children – Park decided to undertake whatever treatments would help him stay alive.
“I was like, ‘Hit me hard. You hit me as hard as you can and I’ll deal with it,’” he says.
Darrin Park with his wife and two children in Edmonton, Alta.
Park was admitted to Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute, and began aggressive chemotherapy treatments the same day. After five months, when his immune system was completely depleted, he was given a stem cell transplant.
“On June 4, 2012, they gave me my stem cells, and as they were putting them back in my doctor said ‘Happy birthday, we’re just giving you your life back,’” Park chuckles. “So I have two birthdays now!”
Almost four years later, Park doesn’t like to think about what he went through during his time in the hospital. He contracted a superbug, lost 100 pounds, had shingles, and was very ill – but he survived.
“It was horrible, but I made it,” Park says. “Cancer is such an awful disease… but you have to look at the positive side of life.”
If there’s one thing Park has done, it is to stay positive. Terry Fox was always his idol, and he began volunteering for the Terry Fox Foundation during his recovery. Today he speaks to schoolchildren, Albertans, and Canadians across the country about his cancer experience, and is the chair of the annual Terry Fox Run in Edmonton.
“I’d do anything to help the Foundation – to talk and spread the word and keep that dream and momentum alive – and so that’s what I do,” he says. “You want to know where your money goes? I’m proof. I’m alive because of that research.”
Park still has two live masses in his brain, but they are fortunately not growing at the moment. While undergoing treatment, his goal was to see both of his children graduate from elementary school. With that nearly achieved, his next goal is to see them complete high school.
“I’m waiting for a miracle – but we all are,” he says. “It only takes one day for one project to work, and maybe it will work for a lot of us.”
“I’m alive because of what Terry Fox did, and because his family believed in him so much that they have dedicated their lives to the cause. It’s just so incredible.”