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'Love-struck teenagers, forever': Jim and Tanya's story

Jim de Zwart and his love at first IRL sight, Tanya Voormeij-de Zwart, have built a family and a life on Bowen together. Now, the island is stepping up to help the couple in the face of Jim’s critical illness
Family de Zwart
Robin, Tanya, Eva, Thomas and Jim have a great love of the arts and founded a family film and theatre company, which put on “Random Acts of Comedy” at Tir-na-nOg a couple of years ago. Jim was recently diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis.

Writing an article about Jim is difficult to do without including his greatest love: his family. Jim came to Bowen Island 18 years ago with the love of his life, Tanya Voormeij-de Zwart, and their two young boys, Robin and Thomas. 

Tanya and Jim met in August 1995 on an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel for Dutch new media artists. Tanya was a graphic designer living in Kitsilano and Jim was studying at the Utrecht School of the Arts in Holland. At the time, IRC was a cutting-edge way for artists to network and inspire each other. The couple chatted up to 16 hours a day, connecting deeply, falling in love. A month later, they decided to meet in person at a little train station in Holland. It was love at first “real life” sight. In November, Tanya took a leap of faith – leaving her home in Canada, moving in with Jim in Utrecht, and marrying him in May 1998. In August 1999, their son Robin was born, followed by Thomas in May 2001. When Tanya became homesick for Canada, the family moved in February 2003, landing on Bowen Island, and have never left. In May 2004, their daughter Eva was born. 

As a mother of young children, I met Tanya and Jim through mutual friends. Our children are of similar ages and our friendship was a natural fit. What has always struck me, watching Tanya and Jim over the years, is the incredible love they share together. Love-struck teenagers, forever, comes to mind. Jim has always been the bedrock of the family, quietly supporting everyone throughout their incredible life adventures. 

Raising their children with an attachment parenting philosophy, Tanya homeschooled their kids. Supported by Island Discovery Learning Community, she mentored the boys to the end of high school. Eva chose to complete her final high school years at West Vancouver Secondary School and will be heading to University of Northern British Columbia (Prince George) in the fall to study biochemistry and molecular biology. Robin is about to graduate from SFU and Thomas is on a pause from BCIT. Both boys followed their father’s footsteps into the world of computer science and cyber security. 

Tanya and Jim always encouraged their children to explore the arts, leading to a great love for music and acting. Many times, their entire family would be featured in Tir-na-nOg plays. As a family, they founded a film production company and a theatre company, raising funds with their inaugural play “Random Acts of Comedy” toward a theatre scholarship for youth. 

As our children reached teenagehood, Tanya and Jim opened their home to their famous game nights. Jimmie’s pizza fed many hungry teens and their colourful home gave teens a space for safe fun. Tanya and Jim’s New Year’s Eve parties were always a treat to attend. Jim would happily make his famous oliebollen, a Dutch doughnut covered in icing sugar.

Late November 2020, Jim started experiencing ringing in his ears, blurry vision and headaches. He ended up at Lion’s Gate Hospital, where lumbar puncture results led to the diagnosis of benign intracranial hypertension. Things didn’t get better with treatment, however and Dr. Blackwood knew he needed a second opinion. As such, Jim was seen by Vancouver General Hospital’s neurology team, resulting in a different diagnosis; Jim was found to have a cancer that had spread to the lining of his brain and spinal cord called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis. Sobering and stunning information for any family.

Jim had an enormous set back on May 13 with an emergency trip to Lion’s Gate Hospital, when he could not be woken up from a nap. A lumbar puncture revealed a pressure inside his brain and spinal cord so high (over three times the healthy limit), it caused temporary paralysis on his left side. Emergency surgery to place a shunt (a permanent drain from his spinal fluid to his abdomen) had to be performed before he could receive any more treatment for his cancer. Tuesday May 25 , Jim embarked on radiation therapy, to be followed by chemotherapy. 

I wrote this article to bring awareness regarding Jim’s health and his family’s need for help. Jim has a message to share with Bowen Island: 

“Eighteen years of commuting has been well worth calling Bowen home; being part of the fabric of a beautiful community has made my dear family and I feel worry-free and carried by many hands in light of my recent health crisis. All the healing thoughts and messages of support really put me at ease while I am being poked, prodded, scanned, and transported to figure out what is going on with me. The road ahead will be difficult but with all the light, love, and support, I feel strong about this journey. Bowen rocks! Thank you!“ 

Living life in the moment, having hope, love, and endless positivity is a message for all. If you would like to contribute to Jim’s family, there is a meal train, a GoFundMe campaign and a bank account at the First Credit Union set up for Jim’s family. E-transfer funds can go to First Credit Union: or