Howard Hewitt has always been a strong, healthy man.
Even at 68, he was visiting the gym every other day for two-hour workouts. So when he wasn’t able to lift weights or keep up on the treadmill as usual over the winter, he and his family thought they were dealing with a serious flu bug.
“I couldn’t understand it,” he says from his temporary home in Vancouver. “I was going to the gym but I was getting weaker and weaker and weaker. I thought I’d picked up a bug.”
Even a family doctor had told him, ‘well, you are getting older.’
Hewitt was heading to soak in the hot tub at the Chilliwack Leisure Centre one day in January, when made a decision that has bought him more time to live. He stopped in at the ER to see a doctor. Just hours later, he was diagnosed with AML, a form of leukemia.
“They told me I shouldn’t have been able to get out of my car to the hospital,” he recalls. “My blood pressure and potassium was so out of whack. They call it a silent killer, and I should have been dead.”
Instead, he was rushed to Vancouver General Hospital and put on his first round of chemotherapy. They’ve been consistently treating him — one week on, three weeks off — and will continue that pattern for three more months. He’s had to move from Chilliwack to Vancouver to be close to VGH and its cancer team, and it’s a move that’s left him and his family scrambling financially. It’s been a tough transition for someone who has always worked hard, and always supported his family.
But his friends, past and present, are trying to lift his spirits and his bank account through a few fundraising efforts that will help him focus on recovery instead of paying bills.
His 18-year-old daughter isn’t surprised by the immense support already shown to her father. They’ve set up a GoFundMe account, and they’ve planned a one-day musical celebration at Tractorgrease Cafe to raise funds.
“My dad becomes friends with everyone,” Lakeisha says. Some of the first people to pull through with donations online were people from years ago, when Hewitt was heavily involved in karate.
But they’ve always been wrapped in support and love from the local musical community. Lakeisha showed an interest in music from a very young age, and her dad has encouraged her along the way.
“He’s always been my number one supporter ever since I was three,” she says. She’s here in Chilliwack still, and without a vehicle she isn’t able to visit as often as she’d like.
“I don’t get to see him that often,” she says. “I saw him yesterday and that was nice because I miss him a lot. When we had to separate it was really hard. My dad’s always been right next to me.”
And so it’s with great hope that Hewitt will make it to the fundraiser at Tractorgrease, on April 2. Lakeisha performs first on stage, at 4 p.m., and Hewitt says he intends to be there for that.
“I love music, and I love good music,” he says. “My daughter, she’s been doing it since she was three years old, and I decided to try to nurture that in her as best I could.”
Lakeisha’s hoping he will make it to the fundraiser, too, but not for his support this time. She wants to show him the community is there for him.
“I believe if you give love to something it will be okay,” she says. And for now, things seem like they could be okay. Hewitt is in remission, but he’s hesitant to call it a victory yet.
“It’s the sad thing about being in remission,” he says. “If it comes back after these four rounds of chemo, I’m up the creek without a paddle. They can’t do stem cells for me, I’m too old. And the chemo is too hard on my body.”
The treatment has left his body weak and susceptible to infection, and right now he’s fighting a bit of a cold. But the treatment he’s receiving is “the very best,” he says. “I couldn’t say enough about how they treat you (at VGH).”
Tickets are just about sold out for the fundraiser, at $10 each. But they are still accepting silent auction items. Also lined up to perform are Stringer and the Crew, Lori Paul & Spiderlodge, Leah Taylor, The Tractorgrease Folk, The Great Atlas, and Naxx.
For information about tickets or donating to the fundraiser for Howard Hewitt, phone Tractorgrease at 604-858-3814.
To donate directly to the family, visit their GoFundMe account.