Update: Please note the location of the fundraiser has been changed to Run With Soup on Feb. 19 from noon to 3 p.m.
Sheri Marino is not afraid to die. The West Sechelt resident is, however, afraid that she will die before she can take care of her vulnerable family members.
Marino is known for her advocacy for seniors and autistic people. For years, Marino has also been the sole caregiver for her mother, her husband Ron Brunt who has various health issues and clinical depression, and her son Richie Leitner who has autism.
“I've spent 24 years as an advocate. I'm the one people come to for help. So to have to reach out for help, it’s just been the hardest thing for me,” she said at her rental home in West Sechelt.
Nine months ago, Marino was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. Her advanced lung cancer has spread to her nerves and created several masses in other areas of her body. She was not eligible for radiation treatment because of her COPD, but a treatment became available in Powell River. The first treatment “worked beautifully,” Marino said, but the second treatment just weeks later caused colitis. She began losing too much weight and had to stop treatment for her cancer. As of Jan. 24, she weighs just over 81 pounds.
“It’s just a question of how long,” Marino said, before she dies.
Her mother, who lived with various health issues and was diagnosed with dementia, died on Jan. 16. Marino hasn’t had the time to mourn — she has to figure out how her family will survive on three incomes instead of four (provincial disability, federal disability, old age pension and guaranteed income settlement). With her own health issues, Marino is preparing to die while simultaneously preparing for how her family will live without her and her income. Accommodations had been arranged for Brunt and Leitner, but fell through.
“We don’t have enough money to live anymore,” Marino said. “So we are trying to figure out how … are we gonna raise enough money just to keep them housed? So after I die, too, how the hell are they gonna live? Am I gonna end up with my family on the street dying from cancer? That can't be.”
She said she’s grateful for disability assistance, but that it’s not enough to live on anymore. Finding a rental on the Sunshine Coast has been a struggle, and she worries for other seniors who find themselves in a similar situation. Marino also worries that the Coast is being marketed as a community for seniors, without the necessary healthcare resources to support an aging population.
“This is our hometown. Two generations before me helped build it,” she said. Marino’s family has lived on the Sunshine Coast for 110 years, and her grandfather built the first elementary school in Gibsons.
On Feb. 19, community members are organizing a "soup and songs" fundraiser for Marino and her family. The lunch and silent auction will be held at Run With Soup (5688 Cowrie St., Sechelt) with lunch, music and a silent auction. Multiple community members and local businesses are pitching in to help. Marino has also applied to the Ruby Slipper Fund, but she is still waiting for her application to be processed.
A GoFundMe fundraiser has also been started to help raise enough money to keep Brunt and Leitner secure until they can find a new place to live, ideally together.