Sent: Sunday, June 08, 2008 11:21 AM
Subject: Re. Winnipeg Free Press article
Our city became their haven
Ukrainian family says 'thank God for Winnipeg'
Halyna and Sergiy Lavron are being forced to say goodbye to their adopted home, Winnipeg.
Before they leave, the Ukrainian immigrants want to say thank you to a city that offered them friendship, spiritual comfort and medical support.
Sergiy Lavron is battling melanoma. His wife Halyna says they're grateful for neighbours, and doctors, they found here. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press )
"Canada is the best country," says Halyna. "Life is nice. Winnipeg, the people are nice, the doctors are nice. I say thank you God for Winnipeg."
The couple, both teachers in Ukraine, first immigrated to Philadelphia in 2001. They'd been offered jobs at a Ukrainian school and, leaving their two sons with family, decided they'd get a fresh start in North America.
It was a tough decision, they said, but circumstances in their homeland made staying very difficult.
In 2003, Sergiy, now 49, was diagnosed with melanoma. Their dream turned into a nightmare.
"Sergiy has a very serious problem," says Halyna. "He start treatment. It was very difficult for us."
The couple had some insurance and got financial help from the local Ukrainian community, their church and the hospital. Still, they took a financial hit.
The Lavrons had applied to live in Canada before the diagnosis. Sergiy had been in the country twice to visit an aunt in Regina. He drove through Winnipeg both times.
Manitoba was the only province to accept the family's application.
"We didn't know so many Ukrainians in Winnipeg," says Halyna. "It's nice."
During a lull in cancer treatments, the couple got in their car and drove to Winnipeg. They got here March 13, 2004.
Three days later, their two sons arrived from Ukraine.
Halyna has tears in her eyes when she talks about the reunion with her boys, now 27 and 21.
"Thank you God," she says fervently. "Now we are a family again."
They bought and fixed up a house in St. Vital and joined a north end Ukrainian Orthodox church. Sergiy was still ill and Halyna couldn't get work as a teacher.
She took training and is now a health care worker at a nursing home. The family became Canadian citizens.
Their luck changed for the better in Winnipeg.
They met Dr. Tatiana Panaskevich at their church. She quickly became their family doctor and their friend.
She went with them to their early appointments at CancerCare Manitoba, translated and made sure they understood the treatments and diagnosis.
She was their first angel. The second, they say, was oncologist Dr. Ralph Wong. They credit his care and his compassion for seeing them through their cancer journey.
"Sergiy gets a not good prognosis," says Halyna. "Thank you God we had Dr. Wong. He never say, 'I give you three months or two years." He say, 'You are alive today. Future is future. You must treat first the spirit, after the body."
The pair talk frankly about their depression, about how difficult it is to be new to a country, struggling with the language and unable to work in the profession for which you are trained.
Add a cancer diagnosis and the depression can be crippling, they say.
But their church, their new friends and their doctors kept them moving forward. Their eldest son graduated from the University of Winnipeg last weekend. The younger son is completing high school and working.
Despite their successes and clear love for the city, the immigrants have to move again. It's simply too sunny here for Sergiy, whose melanoma is still not in remission.
At the end of this month, they'll begin afresh in St. Catharines, Ont. There's a terrific medical program there, a Ukrainian community and enough dreary days to allow an ill man some relief.
Halyna tries not to cry when she talks about her family's journey.
"Thank you God for help we got from people, for our spirit and our life. Thank you doctors. Thank you neighbours."
They don't know how long Sergiy will survive. They only know that their time in our city was marked by compassion and friendship.
They'll never stop being grateful for that.
email@example.comLindor Reynolds blogs at www.winnipegfreepress.com