A graduate of Nelson High School in Burlington, Canada, tragically passed away in January, but friends and family turned her coffin into a particularly meaningful memorial. Laura Hillier lost a years-long battle with acute myeloid leukemia on Jan. 20 at age 18.
But those attending her funeral came prepared to leave fitting tributes. They covered her coffin in a number of multi-colored and heartfelt messages, much like the kind of sentiments often left in a yearbook.
The casket was also adorned with a message from Hillier herself. It read, “Life is a song… sing it ’til your heart’s content.”
Now Hillier’s family is attempting to raise money in her memory for Coast to Coast Against Cancer, an organization that supports stem cell research in Ontario.
There’s little doubt that Laura will continue to impact many even after her untimely passing. As fear family put it on Facebook, “Her poise, her courage, her strength and her pure spirit shone through right until the end.”
Hillier’s death is all the more tragic on account of what transpired before it.
She had actually found a match for a necessary stem cell transplant last summer. But doctors were unable to immediately treat her due to a bed shortage at her local hospital. In turn, they placed her on a waiting list for the transplant.
At the time, Hillier told CTVNews that the delay was “hard to hear” after noting that, “You always hear about the wait of finding a donor, and that’s the big hurdle.”
Indeed, Hillier fully appreciated that the longer wait could result in significant setbacks for her condition.
“They said some people relapse in the wait, so they get cancer again, some people die,” she explained last July. “And some people get infections, and either succumb to the infections or have permanent damage while waiting.”
Unwilling to accept the situation at first, Laura’s mother Frances investigated alternatives venues for the surgery only to find similarly problematic waits all across Canada. Seeking treatment in the United States proved to be impractical, as well. Notwithstanding the costs associated with temporary relocation, the procedure itself would have run about $250,000, according to Frances.
“It’s really hard to imagine finding those funds,” she said at the time.
Ontario’s government offered little help in the matter.
A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins simply declared, “It is our expectation that hospitals will prioritize patients based on medical urgency, however those decisions are made by each individual hospital.”
The response offered little solace to the Hilliers.
“We’re just hoping there will be something more done in an urgent way,” Frances said in July.
Instead, doctors put Laura on a regime of chemotherapy in hopes of keeping her body in remission. Though she received news of an available bed (and transplant opportunity) last August, her cancer soon returned.
By November, Laura required a tube for help breathing and was intermittently losing consciousness, according to the Metro. There was momentary cause for relief later this January when she was moved from the ICU to a ward.
“Although she is weak and has no immune system, this is a huge step for our girl who the doctors said would not see Christmas,” Laura’s family noted at the time.
Even as recently as Jan. 16, Laura was optimistic about her prospects and expressed excitement about the opportunity to be treated at the City of Hope cancer treatment center in California.
“I am really happy to continue forward in my journey,” Laura then said. “Thanks for all the love and support I feel from all of you every day.”
But a setback and bleeding on Jan. 17 ultimately proved too much for Laura to overcome.
Hillier’s story has garnered ample publicity, but it remains to be seen whether Canada’s healthcare system will undergo any significant reform.