Not Just Another Day at Work
Natasha posed for a photo with Kevin after her debut with the Calgary Stars Gymnastics and Cheerleading Club.
It's 3:08 Saturday morning when the phone rings. It's never good when the phone rings at 3 in the morning.
It's a text to voice message.
"On our way to hospital. Extreme headache, dizziness, numbness."
It's from my daughter Meaghan's number.
Holy crap! I grab my cell and text back.
“Can you speak?! Slurring your words?! Is your grip strength diminished?! How's your gait?! Cognitive ability?!”
Her reply: "Stop diagnosing me. I'll tell you when I know."
There's some comfort in that. Her terse reply is a good thing. It tells me she's OK for now, but nervous. I keep telling myself everything will be OK.
It’s now 9 am and I'm heading to work. I haven't heard from Meg yet and I haven't slept much. Work seems like the best option to keep my mind clear. My wife, Lorrie, is taking care of our grandchildren.
My assignment: A 12-year-old girl with inoperable brain cancer is fulfilling her dream of being a cheerleading competitor. This could be uplifting - or sad. Hopefully, uplifting.
On the floor of the gym at Mount Royal University, I meet Natasha Gould.
She tells me about her diagnosis last year. She has Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). It’s a condition that largely targets children, and it’s also incurable, inoperable, and most often, fatal. She's very open and matter of fact about it. I like this girl - a lot.
My phone dings. It’s a text from my wife. Meg's going for a CAT scan. Doctors want to "rule out" the bad stuff.
I look at my phone, then Natasha, then phone again. I feel sick.
I call my wife. What should I do? Her advice: stay working, at least until answers come. As usual, this is good advice.
When shooting TV news, you look through the viewfinder and totally disassociate from the rest of the world. For a while, only the subject of your story matters. Perhaps it's a defence mechanism: journalists see a lot of terrible things, but on days like this, it can be therapeutic.
For the next two hours, all I see is Natasha and her friends. She is so happy. Despite the circumstances, it's joyous.
As her team hits the stage and the crowd goes wild, I actually break one of my Cardinal rules. I let out a big cheer, which wrecks the natural sound I’m capturing with my camera. It's like breaking the fourth wall; only to be done on purpose, never by accident. I'll leave it for editing. As they say: "We'll fix it in post."
Natasha’s performance is breathtaking, pure unadulterated happiness. Everyone in the room feels it. It's magic.
As the applause dies down and the tears dry up, I head over to Natasha's dad, Bill.
"It's amazing," he tells me. "But bittersweet."
I feel like hugging the guy, but that would seem awkward. I walk away realizing perhaps it's me who needs the hug. It's that kind of day.
My phone rings. It's my wife. Meg has a very serious infection. Many days of IV antibiotics will be needed, but bottom line: She'll recover.
Hanging up I walk across the gym floor to Natasha, and ask someone to take our picture. For most journalists, and particularly for me, this is unusual.
Eventually my girl will be OK, but 99 per cent of kids who develop DIPG will die within two years. I want Natasha to be a one percenter. I want to cover that story.