Her laugh was infectious and her smile lit up a room.
Though she was only on this Earth for 11 years, Evelyn Roy left a massive imprint on so many lives.
“Ev was remarkable. She was the kind of kid who lived in joy and wonder,” Evelyn’s mom Heather Roy said with a reminiscent smile.
“There was something about her that was just straight-up magical.”
“Evelyn was a magnetic child full of energy and enthusiasm about everything,” family friend Hailey Seidel recounted,
The Calgary girl had big dreams for the future, with plans to embrace her artistic passion at an architectural design school in San Francisco. She loved to dance and make others laugh. And boy, did she adore Star Wars.
Evelyn was also incredibly athletic. Mere weeks before her cancer diagnosis, she finished a 10-kilometre run without any inclination anything was wrong.
But in the fall of 2018, doctors found a softball-sized tumour in her abdomen. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma.
For a year and a half, she relentlessly fought, but then passed away this past February.
Creating hope during COVID-19
Evelyn passed away in Toronto, where she was receiving treatment, on Feb. 26. By the time her family secured their flights home to Calgary, the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning in Canada.
Evelyn’s funeral was one of the last gatherings many families went to before Alberta went into lockdown.
Shortly after their return home, a family friend gave the Roys a rainbow.
“Rainbows symbolize hope and they can symbolize so much more than that. For us they started to symbolize community,” Heather said.
That one rainbow started a city-wide movement that also spread online through the hashtag #rainbowsforevelyn.
Family, friends and even complete strangers put up rainbows in their windows to honour the 11-year-old.
“The rainbows came in drawings from children. The rainbows came in businesses covering their windows and friends and family filling their windows with artwork,” Heather said.
“She was such a bright light — it was a perfect fit to remember her by,” family friend Brittany Kolba recounted. She and her family painted a chalk rainbow covering their entire garage.
But the movement stretched much further than just remembering Evelyn. It united Calgarians while the city was in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic.
“Amongst that, with COVID, we felt that overarching sense of hope was something everybody needing to feel, not just those of us who are grieving,” Heather said.
Seidel and her daughters covered every single storefront window of her downtown business — The Petropolitan — with rainbows and multi-coloured hearts.
“The rainbows in the windows is such a small thing and it’s so wonderful to know it goes such a long way,” Seidel said. “I think even if people don’t know the intention behind them… think they brighten people’s day.
“It’s almost a secondary benefit, to see people’s smiling faces when you’re downtown working during a busy day. During COVID, it’s just one of those times that is insanely challenging for a lot of people and anything you can do to make people smile or brighten their day goes a long way, more than you know.”
Honouring Evelyn’s dream
The Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary became the Roy family’s second home while Evelyn battled cancer.
“The care and attention you receive in this hospital is incredible,” Heather said.
Evelyn had a dream to give back to the hospital that helped her so much. She walked by the donor wall in the oncology ward almost daily.
“Evelyn would say to me, ‘Mama, we’re going to raise so much money for this hospital that my name is going to be on that wall,’ so we are going to honour that wish of hers and raise enough money to put her name on that wall,” Heather said.
Evelyn’s 12th birthday would have been Aug. 6. To celebrate her and help achieve her dream, the Roy family is throwing a driveway dance party with various musicians and performers.
“Our hope in that day, in Evelyn’s memory, is to raise $50,000 for the children’s hospital here in Calgary,” Heather said.
You can find out more about the initiative here.
The family also launched a clothing and merchandise line to raise money for child cancer care.
“We hope that… one day we will be able to change someone else’s story,” Heather said. “That somebody else won’t sit here crying, telling you about their wonderful child that is no longer with them. And if we can do that for even one person, it will make all of our effort worth it.”
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