News / Toronto

For one ill Toronto immigrant, a journey is just beginning

Leeanne Bennett has been hit with a lung cancer diagnosis at the age of just 27, as friends in the immigrant community rally around.

Leeanne Bennett, right, seen here with her housemate Emma Kelly. Bennett has been diagnosed with lung cancer at just 27.

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Leeanne Bennett, right, seen here with her housemate Emma Kelly. Bennett has been diagnosed with lung cancer at just 27.

Imagine moving to another country to start a new life — then facing a deadly disease.

That’s the harsh reality faced by Irishwoman Leeanne Bennett, 27, who was in the process of pursuing her Canadian permanent residency when she received a shock lung cancer diagnosis in recent weeks.

“Originally she had a cough that sounded like a cold, but it wouldn’t go away,” said Emma Kelly, who lives with Bennett on Queen’s Quay.

Kelly said her housemate, who lost both her parents at a young age, came to Canada on a work visa some 18 months ago.

She was lucky the disease was spotted, after doctors in Canada and Ireland — where she had briefly returned for a holiday — initially diagnosed a chest infection and bronchitis, respectively. She was planning to wait for further tests in January 2018.

“In the end, she was babysitting for a family friend here in Canada who happens to be a doctor, and they pushed her to get tested quicker. They’ve told her she has a pretty advanced form of lung cancer,” Kelly said.

Now, after travelling halfway across the globe in search of opportunity, Bennett has perhaps her longest road ahead of her. As is so often the case in immigrant communities, the local diaspora has taken up the cause.

Most but not all of her medical costs will be covered by OHIP, so friends and family have set up a JustGiving page, using the hashtag #sharethefight. To date, it has raised some $23,000 for the young childcare worker. A fundraising dinner is also in the works.

Cathy Murphy, executive director of the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre, was reluctant to comment on Bennett's case specifically but said a local support group is key for people in dire need.

“We are here to signpost to critical information, to guide individuals where possible when they do not know where to turn,” she said. “When a new arrival here experiences a challenge of any kind, knowing where to turn can alleviate some of the initial stress they might be experiencing.”

As a non-smoker, an avid runner and a Gaelic football player with the Roger Casements club in Toronto, the young woman could never have expected to end up in such a situation but is handling it well, her housemate said.

After spending the last two weeks in hospital, she is trying a few days as an outpatient as she undergoes radiation at Sunnybrook Hospital's cancer unit.

“She’s one of the strongest people I have ever met," Kelly said. "The kindness shown by random strangers is really lifting her. The community has come together in a serious way."

To help, visit justgiving.com and search "Leeanne Bennett."

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