Poppy White manages a smile while undergoing treatment at the B.C. Children’s Hospital. (Submitted)

Poppy White manages a smile while undergoing treatment at the B.C. Children’s Hospital. (Submitted)

Community rallies around cancer-stricken 11-year-old

Poppy White’s leukemia diagnosis started as flu symptoms

Just a week before her 11th birthday, the young daughter of a Duncan family was diagnosed with leukemia, and the Cowichan Valley is rallying around them, with the sports community at the forefront.

Poppy White started feeling ill about two weeks before the diagnosis, but her family assumed it was the flu. She didn’t get better, and collapsed a few days later. Doctors went through a number of potential outcomes, including a muscle virus, Lyme disease, or an iron deficiency, but further bloodwork eventually revealed it to be acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The Whites got the diagnosis last Thursday and got Poppy to Victoria that night, and she was at the B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver on Friday. She underwent bone marrow testing that day, had a tube implanted in her heart on Saturday, and started chemotherapy on Monday. Poppy turns 11 on Wednesday and is facing two years of treatment.

To say it came on suddenly is an understatement.

“She was out running lines with us two weeks ago,” said Neall Rowlings, a family friend from the soccer community.

Poppy is the fourth of six daughters of George and Jenny White, invaluable members of the soccer, track and field and 4-H communities.

“They’re a soccer family, that’s for sure,” said Bill Keserich Jr., another family friend from the community who also works for George’s contracting business. Rowlings compares Keserich and George White to “an old married couple.”

“They do everything together,” Rowlings joked.

All six White girls have played in the Cowichan Valley Soccer Association, and George has been involved in numerous roles, including this past season as a coach and player for the men’s masters C Cowichan Steelheads, and also as coach of Poppy’s team. Most recently, he has been helping arrange drop-in soccer on Wednesday evenings. That’s not to mention his involvement in 4-H.

“His thing is all about making sure everyone gets to play,” Keserich said.

Jenny White, has also coached soccer and been a 4-H leader, as well as running marathons and supporting the CVAC Jaguars track team, which has also stepped up to assist the family.

As a player, Poppy is talented enough to have been called up to the next age group, but she has also left a mark on the sport as a character.

“Poppy’s claim to fame is her sharp wit, her quick comments, and that she loves her hat,” Rowlings laughed.

The soccer community has been quick to rally around the family. A GoFundMe campaign raised nearly $14,000 toward a $25,000 goal in its first two days.

“The community support is amazing,” Rowlings said. “People are offering so much.”

The Whites will have to travel back and forth between the Island and the Mainland throughout Poppy’s treatment, which will impact George, who owns his own business. Poppy’s five sisters will also want to be by her side as much as possible. The success rate for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia is high, but it still won’t be an easy time for the family.

“It’s going to be a two-year thing for them,” Rowlings said. “Even though we’re hitting all our goals, there’s still a long way to go.”

The GoFundMe campaign for the White family can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/assist-the-whites-with-costs