A Mother’s Day Hug of Hope

On Mother’s Day of 2001, four-year-old Meagan Bebenek presented her mother Denise with a gift no mom could ever forget. It was a drawing of two people, with a little angel placed carefully above their heads. The people were mommy and daddy, Meagan explained, and the angel was young Meagan herself; positioned closely by her parents where she said she would forever be.

By Charlotte Bumstead

Meagan had just turned five when her family lost her to brain stem glioma, a cancerous brain tumour. Now, ten years later, Meagan’s story of hope and courage continues to touch the hearts of many. This Mother’s Day, over 4000 people are expected to meet at Ontario Place in Toronto to participate in Meagan’s Walk — an annual fundraising event for the Hospital of Sick Children. To date, the walk has raised two million for paediatric brain tumour research.

It was the endless love and support offered by those surrounding the Bebenek family that inspired Denise to dedicate Meagan’s legacy of hope to all children suffering from brain tumours. Meagan’s elementary school principal, Dr. Sylvia Kennedy, has been participating in the walk since it began in 2002. “Denise is just the most amazing woman,” says Kennedy. “She’s the strongest woman I’ve ever met in my life. To be able to rise after such a tragedy, to get out of bed after you lose a child, and to carry it so far over the years … she’s an amazing woman.”

When she first became sick, Meagan was a kindergarten student at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School in Toronto. Denise and her husband Kevin continued to bring her to school every day, except for days spent at the hospital. “She was just a happy little girl,” says Kennedy. Even while she was undergoing radiation treatment, Meagan was not one to cry or complain.

Her first day back to school after treatment was Valentine’s Day. Kennedy vividly remembers that February 14, when the entire school wore red for Meagan. “And there she was, just in the midst of this, and she’s all aglow and just kind of wondering what the big deal is,” Kennedy says with a heart-warming laugh. “It’s just Valentine’s Day, everybody gets valentines.”

Many of the kindergarteners from Meagan’s class, now teenagers, will be participating in this Sunday’s walk. “It affected people in quite a deep, emotional and spiritual way that is going to keep them tied to this event, for many years,” says Kennedy. At 62, Kennedy is now retired. But will never forget the way Meagan touched her life. “An experience like this sure puts your priorities in place,” she says.

For the final destination of Meagan’s Walk, participants gather at Sickkids. Circling the hospital, everyone joins hands in a symbolic hug of those within. “You look up and there are all these little faces looking out,” says Kennedy. Behind the windows are children with IV poles, children who have lost all their hair from treatment, children cuddled up in their parents’ laps. “And you just know that it’s so important,” she says. “They’re the most vulnerable people in our society—these little children [suffering from] such devastating disease.”

Meagan’s story is an inspiration to all. This Mother’s Day, many people will be walking to remember children who were lost. Many others will be walking in celebration of those still here and well.

To learn more, visit www.meaganswalk.com.