Careening around the Kawartha Golf and Country Club on Monday afternoon in a golf cart, the father of the late James Birrell and founder of the James Fund was looking for Hole Two.
Birrell looked like he was ready to spend the day golfing, save for the flip flops on his feet. But he confessed that’s not much of a golfer, and wouldn’t be playing.
“I am better put to work schmoozing at Hole 2,” Birrell explained, pulling up to what he thought was the right spot.
Birrell was actually at Hole 11, which, apparently, was where he was supposed to be all along.
Birrell would spend the rest of the afternoon greeting golfers participating in the seventh annual James Fund Golf Classic, signing copies of his book, You Can’t Let Cancer Ruin Your Day, and cheering on golfers.
The James Fund usually raises money for neuroblastoma research. Neuroblastoma is a rare form of childhood cancer with a high fatality rate. Birrell’s son James died of neuroblastoma at the age of eight.
But the golf tournament isn’t about raising money for research, Birrell said. It’s about the families that struggle or have lived with neuroblastoma.
Families going through neuroblastoma need a lot of support, he explained.
“Neuroblastoma, it’s not like one week and you’re done,” he said. “It’s a year or two or three.”
And it usually ends, he said, when a child dies.
Both parents usually have to quit work to care for their sick child, a round the clock job that Birrell said can lead to thousands of dollars in expenses that aren’t covered by OHIP.
It’s also lonely.
Birrell said only fellow neuroblastoma families can fully understand what others are grappling with.
Funds raised through the golf tournament have helped send 350 people affected by neuroblastoma on six James Fund retreats. It helped dole out $42,000 in emergency funding to families in need. It has helped forty families pay for palliative care, bereavement counselling and medication. It has helped struggling neuroblastoma families pay utility pay bills, rent, travel to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and funerals.
“That’s what this tournament covers,” Birrell said.
In addition to the sponsored holes and $40,000 in live and silent auction items 112 golfers took to the course Monday to help raise funds.
If any of those were off their game Monday they could take advantage of Dan Bathgate’s skills.
An instructor at the Kawartha Golf and Country club, Bathgate would drive a ball down the fairway for golfers for $20.
Among the crowd passing through Hole 11 was Sydney Whyte, accompanying members of her family on the course and selling bracelets she made.
Her nine-year-old sister Georgia was diagnosed with neuroblastoma as an infant. Georgia has now been cancer free for seven years.
Georgia couldn’t make it Monday, Whyte explained, because she was busy with horseback riding, gymnastics and a track and field meet this week.