Peter Tennant can talk about his fight against cancer with a matter-of-fact shrug. But when it comes to thinking about how his co-workers have rallied to his side, his eyes fill with tears.
Tennant, 59, who works in the lumber department at Rona in Langford, has battled leukemia for four years, and expected his latest round of chemotherapy to keep the illness at bay for a few years more.
Unfortunately that treatment only lasted a short time – in April he was four shifts into his new job at Rona when the doctor gave him the bad news. His only hope is a stem cell transplant from his sister who lives in South Africa, an expensive undertaking.
“I told Rona this is the situation and no one batted an eyelid. No one asked a question, they were just there to help,” Tennant said. “I’m very blessed.”
Rona employee Debra Downton helped organize a fundraising effort involving Rona stores from Victoria to Campbell River. Employees have put their hair and facial hair on the line if fundraising milestones are met.
Scores of employees are willing to have their head shaved at $3,000 and $4,000. One employee is willing to shave off his 1970s-era beard at $5,000. One female is willing to sacrifice her hair at $8,000. The district manager will go bald at $10,000. So far they’re at $2,300.
“I’ll be the only one around with hair,” Tennant joked.
“For me it’s been a humbling experience. The people I’ve met have been so good to me,” he said. ”The people at Rona are so open and wonderful.”
“We are a family here,” Downton added. “Getting Ronas up-Island raises the bar for the amount of funds. We are trying to do as much as we can. Everybody is trying to get to that goal of shaving heads.”
The money will help Tennant fly his sister from South Africa to Vancouver and to house her for a month. Tennant said he’ll need to live in Vancouver for at least a few months and be off work for almost a year.
“There are hidden costs to cancer. The medical system is absolutely wonderful, but some things are not covered,” Tennant said. “I’ve been in Canada 11 years and I’m thankful I didn’t get cancer in South Africa.”
Fundraising by Tennant’s colleagues eases what is an enormous amount of financial and emotional stress on his life.
“I’m fine, I’m the one in the war. It’s very hard on my wife,” he said. “All we can say is somehow we’ll survive, we’ll make it work somehow.”
Rona in Langford and other stores on Vancouver Island are collecting donations for Tennant. Pancake breakfasts and other fundraising events are planned for September.