Darren Ballegeer and his wife Elena Miramar are enjoying this winter house sitting for friends in Williams Lake.
They may be here for a short time or a long time.
They aren’t sure yet. But one thing they are sure of is that they are enjoying every moment they are here to the fullest.
They have been snow shoeing, hiking, getting to know the community, making new friends and even took in the Williams Lake Sportsmen’s Association annual game banquet.
“We love Williams Lake, it has a feeling of a real community and people are very friendly,” Elena says. “Also, it’s great to be surrounded by nature.”
Darren and Elena are an international couple who enjoy exploring the world and share a common love for writing and storytelling.
Darren is using their time in Williams Lake to write a book about his experiences with cancer, while Elena focuses on a newspaper and online publication they operate with friends in California.
Elena is originally from Mexico. Darren is from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
They met in San Francisco in 2001. Darren was working for a high tech company in Silicon Valley and Elena was working in newspaper and magazine sales.
Together in 2003 they started the Spanish/English newspaper and online publication called Vision Hispana, which specializes in travel and positive articles about people and places.
“We do everything from wherever we happen to be,” Darren says. “It has allowed us to live in Mexico for a while and Europe for a while.”
In February 2014, however, their lives were turned upside-down when Darren was diagnosed with melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.
Being a fair skinned red head, he had been treated for small patches of skin cancer in the past but this time doctors discovered he had melanoma which had spread to his lymph nodes.
After extensively researching the disease and treatment options he had surgery at a hospital in San Francisco that specializes in melanoma treatment. He had a dozen lymph nodes surgically removed.
While searching for the best treatment and follow-up options, Darren consulted with specialists in 19 clinics and hospitals specializing in cancer treatment located in five cities: Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Winnipeg, and Montreal.
“It was a very extensive quest to get the right answers and be assured that I was making the right decisions,” Darren says.
“I didn’t just want to beat it, I wanted to fully recover with real confidence that there wouldn’t be a future recurrence.”
Instead of following up his surgery with chemotherapy and radiation, Darren opted for a recovery plan that required a radical change in lifestyle.
For the first year and a half after his surgery he eliminated sugar, alcohol, red meat and processed foods from his diet, eating only vegetables and fish.
“Changing my lifestyle and addressing stress was more powerful than any treatments I could have had,” Darren says. “We do a lot of hiking, walking, biking and yoga together.”
“Back then, I thought my life was put upside down,” Elena says. “Now, I see that a big part of our response was to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. I know the fear and stress that partners and families live with when they have been touched by cancer. Through my experience, I learned ways to deal with such feelings.”
During those first couple of years battling melanoma Darren lost 50 pounds. He has been cancer-free for more than one year.
These days he says he may indulge in the odd hamburger, beer or glass of wine. They attended the game banquet in Williams Lake because they believe wild game is the healthiest meat.
Being a consummate writer Darren started journaling his experiences with doctors and clinics specializing in cancer treatment and is turning that journal into a book to help others with cancer.
“I am writing a book called Cancer Navigator, which will be a guide book for people with cancer and their families on how to navigate the medical systems in both the U.S. and Canada,” Darren says.
He says people with cancer need to have confidence and hope that they will survive.
“I think there is too much fear around cancer in general,” Darren says. “The more a person takes control of it, the better will be their ability to determine their own odds of survival.”
Meanwhile Darren is also reaching out to help provide emotional support to people with cancer and help with local cancer fundraisers such as Shine On, a dinner and dance fundraiser coming up at the Elks Hall on Saturday, March 25.
The fundraiser is being organized by Corry Williams and her daughter Samantha Genereux and their Families Fighting Cancer group. This is the third fundraiser the group has staged in five years to help local families fighting cancer with travel and lodging expenses and financial aid where necessary.
Tickets are available at FYI Doctors, South Broadway Liquor and The Realm of Toys.
People who wish to donate to the cause or know more about the event can contact Corry Williams at 250-267-6188 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.