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Turning Pumpkins Into Positivity

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

In February of 2018 life changed drastically for one local resident when she received a diagnosis that would turn her world upside down. Jessica Durka remembers well the day she was told that she had Non Hodgkins Lymphoma…at the young age of 36 years old.

 Mark VanGoethem, his daughter Jessica Durka
Mark VanGoethem, his daughter Jessica Durka and their dog Chase

For six months Durka underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and CAR T therapy, as an outpatient, at the Juravinski Cancer Center. “By the end of my treatments I had to learn to walk to the end of the driveway. But I didn’t get mad. I was going to beat this. I had no other ailments. Every three weeks I would be in bed with nausea, always tired but I stayed positive” adds Durka. “I`m not uncomfortable to talk about it. I remember the first day…it was so busy… but I`m so healthy now. I went from Stage 4(palliative) to near remission. I`m not on any meds and am now going every 6 months for check ups. I went from 3 to 4 then to the 6…They literally saved my life. It`s crazy how much we move forward”.

Durka knew that she had to do something to show how grateful and appreciative she is for all that Juravinski has done for her. In 2018 she came up with the idea to hold a fundraiser and use the monies raised to support a cause close to her heart. In Oct. of 2018 Durka opened the first Juravinski Cancer Center Pumpkin Patch Market.

Her Dad, Mark VanGoethem, supplies the location on Hwy. 24 just outside of Waterford as well as hundreds of pumpkins. Other local farmers and community members have also stepped in to donate corn stalks, burlap bows, bouquets, baked goods and their time. “It’s not just me, it`s everybody. I couldn`t do this without Dad and the community. Kim Smith is basically my right arm through all of this. Her husband, Reg, donates all of the corn stalks. My husband James is in this 100% and last year we had a bunch of his fellow Hamilton Police Officers volunteer their time. It`s amazing how much people come together for a good a cause. There’s never a pumpkin left! As well we get a lot of outside and community and corporate donations like Toyotetsu. They purchase 650 to 800 pumpkins every year to give one to each employee. For 2 years now the owner has come from Japan with a cheque right to the Juravinski Cancer Center”.

Each year they have raised more and more money. In their first year they raised $12,500.00 and in 2020 they were able to donate $34,000.00. “There’s so much negativity around Cancer and by doing this we get to fill our bucket with money. When the check comes in we get to deliver it in person. It makes me feel so good”. In three years they have donated $90,400 and are looking forward to adding to that total again this year.

“I had a blood cancer and if it were to ever come back, I would need a Stem Cell transplant.

The money raised goes to the Ron and Nancy Clark Stem Cell Transplant Unit. I work a lot with the foundation and they give me a list of items to choose from. It’s a state of the art facility, well oiled and so amazing. The huge research center serves patients from places such as Ancaster, Burlington, Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Niagara On The Lake, Kitchener, Woodstock…whoever requires their help.”

Her Dad, Mark, adds “It’s fantastic what she has done. I am definitely proud of her”. I think it would be safe to say that all of us are proud of Jessica and what she has accomplished after all that she went through. Here’s to continued good health!

You can follow Jessica’s work on the Facebook page `Juravinski Cancer Center Pumpkin Patch Market`. Look for an update on monies raised during this year’s event that was held Sept. 18th. to Oct. 24th. 

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