Most people in Twyla Gendron’s position would be forgiven for feeling sorry for themselves. After a string of tragic incidents that would have those with a lesser constitution giving up altogether, she is simply marvelling at the generosity of friends and strangers.
A group of Gendron’s friends, headed by Heather Healey and Janice Dunk, is working to raise $50,000 to help build a basement apartment in her home, in order to help cover mortgage costs and allow Gendron to stay in her home while working multiple part-time jobs and recovering her health.
“She’s got a lot of very loyal friends,” said Healey. “There’s a lot of manual labour that’s been volunteered.”
A local architect has donated plans, a contractor has offered to work for no charge, and friends are lining up with offers to do the grunt work, including one who’s said they would travel from Winnipeg to pitch in. Gendron seems to be almost in shock at the outpouring of support.
“For me this process has been humbling,” she said. “I don’t know what to say, or what not to say…I’m still not sure I’m worthy.”
Healey and Dunk have no doubt that Gendron, or any other member of the network of friends that formed out of a group of parents of Beaches Alternative School students, is more than worthy of help.
“I think it’s quite extraordinary,” said Healey.
Gendron agreed, pointing out that the support of the community makes all the difference for her.
“I think this could happen to any of us. I’m not special, I’m not unique. What makes this different is that this community has rallied,” she said.
The group has rallied behind others in need of support before, although this is more ambitious than anything undertaken so far.
“We all believe that community is important, and it’s made by participating,” said Gendron.
The basement apartment planned for her home would take quite a bit of financial pressure away, which would be a welcome relief after the past few years. To fully understand the generosity of Gendron’s friends, and why they’re requesting help, it’s necessary to cover some tragic and painful recent history.
In 2002, Gendron’s husband, Larry McCabe, became critically ill with a West Nile-like virus. After almost a year of hospitalization, he never fully recovered his health, and was unable to work as he had previously. Twyla’s salary had to cover the family expenses, so she started working weekends as well. In 2004, she was diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis, which means drug therapy for the rest of her life.
Three years ago, the family finally had to downsize to a smaller house, moving from the Beach to the Cliffside neighbourhood. Then last spring, Gendron lost her job of over two decades, and shortly after was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a successful lumpectomy, and was waiting for chemotherapy and radiation treatments when McCabe became ill. In less than two weeks, he was hospitalized, diagnosed with multiple cancers, and succumbed to the illness on Aug. 23.
Gendron was not afforded the luxury of an extended grieving process, instead undergoing radiation treatment in September, 2011, followed by chemotherapy in January of this year. Throughout all this, she has been working multiple part-time gardening-related jobs when possible, in order to make monthly mortgage payments. Last fall, friends pitched in to raise over $11,000 to go towards the payments; however, Gendron is not in a position to be able to cover the full monthly payments regularly, and another downsizing move, on top of everything else that has happened, would be heartbreaking for her.
“It was the last place my husband and I chose together,” she said, noting it’s also the home where her son and daughter’s last memories of their father were made.
For more information on Twyla Gendron’s story, visit twylaproject.wordpress.com. Directions on how to donate are on the website; there is also a list of other ways to help, including materials needed for the project, time that can be donated or simply spreading the word.