Playing the role of a young girl with incurable cancer left a profound impression on local actress Kaitlyn Bernard. So much so that in addition to volunteering and fundraising, the role led her to founding her own initiative with some of her earnings.
The fundraising campaign through the Canadian Cancer Society is called Just Breathe – named after a poem her character Abigail wrote in the film The Healer. Her character exemplified determination and strength in battling with cancer and always took time to “just breathe” and connect with friends – some traits that really hit home for the 15-year-old Vancouverite.
Just Breathe supports the Canadian Cancer Society’s Camp Goodtimes, a summer recreation program, which provides a unique experience for families affected by cancer. The camp allows for child and teen cancer patients “to just be kids” in a free-of-charge medically supervised site with their siblings, parents and other youth.
How did playing Abigail in The Healer inspire you get involved with supporting kids with cancer?
When I was cast as Abigail I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the director, Paco Arango. Through him I learned a lot about childhood cancer but also about some of the amazing work he was doing in Spain to help kids living with cancer. He also shared with me that a large amount of the proceeds from The Healer would be going to Paul Newman’s Camps for seriously ill children. Paco was and continues to be a huge inspiration to me and after wrapping the film I decided I wanted to do something here in Canada.
Many things about playing Abigail led to me to start my Just Breathe initiative. Meeting the mom of the girl my character is named after had a huge impact on me as did visiting IWK Children’s Hospital during filming. The amazing thing about Abigail is while she was being faced with this devastating illness, she never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her and wanted more than anything to just be treated like regular teenager. I really wanted to find a way to help kids living with cancer to just be kids in light of what might be going on in their daily lives. When I first learned about Canadian Cancer Society’s Camp Goodtimes, I knew this was where I wanted to focus my initial efforts.
What made you decide to donate a significant amount of the funds you earned from starring in the film?
I felt fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be involved in such an incredible project and wanted to support all that the film was about. I am also fortunate to be in a position right now where I can give back and make a difference.
What is the goal behind your Just Breathe initiative and how will you achieve it?
The goal of Just Breathe, named after a poem my character reads in the film, is to help kids living with serious illness just be kids, support summer programs like Camp Goodtimes and support kids both in and out of hospitals with events and activities they can participate in.
Because of my involvement in The Healer, my initial focus is to support kids who have been diagnosed with cancer and thus my partnership with Canadian Cancer Society. However, my long term vision is to support programs for kids with many different serious illnesses. My fundraising plan is based on securing both corporate sponsors and personal fundraising. To date I have raised close to $40,000. Our official launch will be on November 24th with a fun acting & film workshop with some of the kids from Camp Goodtimes, followed by a private screening of The Healer.
Why are programs like Camp Goodtimes, which help kids and their family dealing with cancer, important to support?
When you are diagnosed with something as serious as cancer, many things change in your life and the lives of your family. For one, because of treatment and often a compromised immune system, kids with cancer are not able to participate in regular activities they are accustomed to doing. Programs like Camp Goodtimes allow kids living with cancer to be kids in a safe, supportive environment. The other amazing part of this program is the support it offers to the family. Siblings and parents can attend a program called family camp where the entire family gets to “take a break” from reality and enjoy time together and with other families going through similar experiences. As important and life changing as these programs are, they do not always get the financial support they need to operate. For that reason we need more initiatives like Just Breathe to support them and see the importance of allowing kids living with serious illness to just be kids.
Just Breathe’s Kick-Off & Private Screening event is hosted by Kaitlyn Bernard in support of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Camp Goodtimes summertime program. The event takes place on November 24th at Vancity Theatre and welcomes Camp Goodtimes attendees to take part in filmmaking and acting workshops, get their makeup done, walk a red carpet and have their photos taken by a professional photographer. They will also enjoy a private screening of the film The Healer starring Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jonathan Pryce, Camilla Luddington, Jorge Garcia and Kaitlyn Bernard. The film is written, directed and produced by Paco Arango.
Follow Kaitlyn Bernard’s acting career and fundraising campaign on Facebook and Twitter. She stars in the upcoming Netflix series “1922” based off of Stephen King’s novella from the Full Dark, No Stars collection.
By Amar Mirchandani @amarmirch