Remembering Sarah Watkin

Overflowing with family and friends, supporters and strangers, the Steeles Memorial Chapel was filled to capacity as mourners bound together at a service in honour of Sarah Watkin. The trembling voice of a heartbroken mother’s eulogy reached even those standing out in the foyer as she shared a poignant moment of finding a paper airplane inscribed by Sarah with the words: “Mom, I’ll love you to the moon and back.” The sprightly and precocious seven-year-old, described as a “pirate ninja princess” by her parents, Leah and Mark Watkin, sadly passed away from cancer in the early morning hours of Nov. 2, 2014.

Photo By Dan Osadtsuk
Owner/Operator of The Dan Osadtsuk Photography Co.

“It was beautiful to see how many people have been touched by Sarah,” says Leah three weeks later from her home in Thornhill. “After she passed we did the shiva for the week and hundreds came, and it was nice to just talk about Sarah, about happy things. We got to hold onto her a little bit longer.”

Since the age of five, Sarah waged a hard-fought battle against an aggressive and rare form of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which develops when blood stem cells in the bone marrow no longer grow or behave normally. Her first of three relapses spurred “Sarah’s Drive for Hope,” a Facebook page started by her parents, who began preparing themselves for the search of a stem cell donor to save their daughter. But after 17 stem cell and blood donor drives held in Sarah’s name, and thousands of supporters who ventured out to get swabbed, no match was ever found for her.

Sarah’s story drew in an outpouring of community support and was picked up by various print and broadcast media outlets that captured a child brimming with love and light. City Life Magazine had the distinct honour of sharing a feature on Sarah after visiting the family household this past September. Leah and Mark, also parents to Elizabeth, two-and-a-half, and Matthew, a year this December, selflessly opened their doors and didn’t hold back on the uphill battle they faced from the moment they were told their first-born had leukemia in 2012.

After a heart-rending interview with Leah and Mark, while the children laughed in the playroom down the hall, Sarah beamed bright for the editorial photographer. Just like her silly charm and beauty, being in the spotlight came naturally to Sarah. Her ethereal star power and ability to accomplish so much in her short seven years confirmed her place as the youngest cover girl in City Life Magazine history.

Sarah leaves behind a legacy her family and countless supporters are determined to carry on. “In this world, Sarah’s name stands for a lot of good,” said Mark, adding that, so far, four people have found life-saving stem cell donor matches from drives held in Sarah’s name through the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network.
The Watkins intend to keep organizing blood and stem cell donor drives and have also begun discussing the possibility of an annual bone marrow and blood gala in Sarah’s name to raise awareness and funds for kids with cancer. “It’s a really hard feeling because in some ways it doesn’t feel like she’s gone, like this is kind of some bad dream that we’re stuck in. We miss her every second of the day, and we hope people remember her.”

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