Alex Kurial/Local Journalism Initiative
The people of Petrolia are stepping up in a big way to help a community member in need.
Deputy Fire Chief Darren Allan has been with the Petrolia/North Enniskillen Fire Department for 21 years. Even so, he still says Petrolia is his adopted home. “I’m what they call a Johnny-Come-Lately. I’m not a Hard Oiler, I married a Hard Oiler,” Allan says of his wife, Steph.
But after giving back to his new community for more than two decades, Allan finds himself needing some assistance of his own after receiving the medical news nobody wants to hear: he’d been diagnosed with cancer.
“I wasn’t feeling well. So I contacted my physician and they sent me for blood work,” Allan says of the early signs. “Next thing you know they found that my hemoglobin levels were off. They sent me for more tests and a CT scan and stuff like that.”
Allan received the results in January this year: He had cancer on both his kidneys and would need surgery.
“You kind of only get snippets from the conversation because you’re so overwhelmed with information,” he says about hearing the news. “It’s been a huge blur for me.”
Allan’s doctors moved quickly though, and just last week removed his left kidney at Bluewater Health. Surgery went well and Allan is now resting at home. In six months he’ll have a mass removed from his right kidney.
Like most aspects of life during the past year, COVID has made things more difficult. “You’re not allowed to bring any additional support. My wife couldn’t attend any meetings with doctors,” says Allan. She was only allowed to see him briefly before and after his surgery.
This was especially hard, since unfortunately cancer is a shared experience for Steph and her husband. She is a recent breast cancer survivor.
“Who better to have in your corner than someone who’s gone through it? Unfortunately the person I could ask the questions, given her experience, couldn’t be here to be a second set of ears,” says Allan.
The toll a cancer diagnosis takes is known by almost every family, physically, mentally, and financially. Allan is currently off work while he recovers. “I generally keep pretty busy, then you go from all that happening in your life to putting on the brakes and everything comes to a screeching halt. But it’s also needed or else I can’t heal,” he says.
Word began to get around that the family could use some help, prompting a tidal wave of support.
“It’s hard to believe how much support I’ve received this far. To get this kind of support back from the community feels great,” says Allan.
Colleen McLean, Steph’s aunt, started the Facebook page “Help Darren Allan” where people shared memories and could help donate to Allan’s fight and recovery. After just a few days an entire online auction was planned to take the support even further.
McLean and Jimmy G’s owner Amy Ewing, whose father Don is fire chief in Dawn-Euphemia, have been collecting items from local businesses for the auction. It’s set to run March 19-22.
“I can’t stress how much the community has given of themselves to help support us through all this… I’m glad I moved here back in 1999,” says Allan.
“Even people just coming out and saying ‘hope you get better soon’. It’s huge.”
And of course there is Allan’s firefighter family – many of whom call him The Big D.
“We’re a tight-knit group already given the nature of the work that we do. We support each other through thick and thin,” says Allan. “When I needed them they were right there.”
Word has spread beyond Petrolia, too. “I’ve had people as far as British Columbia reach out and offer support. Also Sarnia, Southern Ontario, Toronto,” says Allan.
“It’s been truly awe-inspiring how something like this has opened my eyes to how people in various communities will band together to show support for somebody, in some cases some people that probably don’t even know me.”
Allan says once he’s recovered and the pandemic is over, he’s looking forward to thanking everyone personally.
“How do you say thanks to so many people? With COVID, I can’t shake everybody’s hand!”
“It can almost be overwhelming. But it’s nice to know that people have each other’s back even through all this,” Allan says.
“I’m planning on sticking around for awhile!”