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“To have events like this, to have carol-singing, to have available to them some of the trappings that they would have if they were at home.”

            - Krista Jangaard, president and CEO of the IWK Health Centre

It takes more than a recurring battle with stubborn leukemia to quench the indomitable spirit of eight-year-old Cashton Peter-Paul.

Especially when Christmas beckons and he gets to pull the switch for the annual IWK tree-lighting celebration.

“Christmas is the best,” a grinning Cashton said after yanking the lever in the hospital foyer to light the giant tree outside in the courtyard.

“It’s special for us because I know this is the best time of the year for him and he is going to continuously be in and out of the hospital and we’re not going to be able to be home for Christmas,” said his mother, Alicia.

“I was trying to figure out ways to make it work for him and they asked him if he wanted to light the Christmas tree and he got super excited,” she said.

Cashton has acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common form of cancer to afflict children and teens. Abnormal white blood cells form in the bone marrow and quickly travel through the bloodstream, crowding out healthy cells and raising the chances of infection.

Cashton rang the bell in March to signal the end of his cancer treatments but he had a relapse in September and has been back at the IWK since then. He will require a bone marrow transplant and his older sister, 10-year-old Sophia, will be the donor.

“She’s nice,” Cashton said of his donor sibling.

The Indian Brook family, including Alicia, Sophia, Melody, 4, and dad Josh Preeper were on hand to join Cashton for the tree-lighting celebration. Another sister, six-year-old Mary, missed the festivities.

“If they have to be here, we try to make it just a little bit better and just a little bit cheerier.”

            - Krista Jangaard

The 39th annual tree-lighting gala kicked off with Christmas tunes played by young violin students from the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts, followed by carols performed by the Sacred Heart Elementary School choir.

“All of these people are families that have been served here in the past, staff, children, the community that is the IWK,” Krista Jangaard, president and CEO of the IWK Health Centre, said of the crowd that listened to the music and watched Cashton pull the switch.

“These are the people who we are here for, who we work for,” said Jangaard, sporting a festive Santa Claus hat. “It’s (tree-lighting event) an important part of our tradition as we think of how we care for families and for the children over a season that is supposed to be happy and can be difficult if you are in hospital. It’s important to have these traditions.”

Jangaard said staff make a lot of effort for the children and families who have to spend some of the holidays at the hospital.

“To have events like this, to have carol-singing, to have available to them some of the trappings that they would have if they were at home,” she said. “It’s not as good as being home but we try as much as possible to get as many kids home, if it is safe to do so and if they are in a place in their treatment that they can do that. If they have to be here, we try to make it just a little bit better and just a little bit cheerier.”

The purveyor of cheer himself, Santa Claus, and Mrs. Claus arrived later on a 1934 fire truck, weaving their way through the crowd to talk to as many children as possible. The cherubic Cashton, who enjoys building clay models and constructing Lego creations, had already revealed that his favourite part of the holiday season is Santa.

“I forget,” he said when asked about his Christmas wish list. “I have 10 things on my list, I can’t keep track. I remember the first thing, monster trucks.”

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