Friends rally to keep girl in Canada as mom struck by terminal cancer

Fundraiser for former Central Saanich teacher with rare cancer surpasses target

A GoFundMe campaign started for former Central Saanich teacher Joni Miller, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, to keep her adopted daughter Naijah in Canada has surpassed its initial target. (GoFundMe/Laurie Marczak)

The community is making sure that not even terminal brain cancer can stand between a Vancouver Island woman and the life she dreamed of for her daughter.

A fundraiser aimed at allowing Joni Miller — a single mother diagnosed with multiple metastatic recurrences of a brain cancer she beat in 2005 — keep her adopted daughter in Canada,has surpassed its initial goal.

In just one week, a GoFundMe campaign started for a former Stelly’s Secondary School teacher and Metchosin native Miller, 49, by her sister Laurie Marczak, raised more than $16,000.

“We have now surpassed our initial goal to cover the legal retainer for Naijah’s immigration process and provide some financial relief for Joni as she pays for basic supports,” Marczak posted on the GoFundMe page on July 23.

RELATED: B.C. couple bring son home from Nigeria after long adoption delay

Miller adopted Naijah, now 11, in Belize in 2015 and brought her to Canada in 2018. She had travelled there, to the island of Caye Caulker, after beating a rare form of brain cancer called aesthesioneuroblastoma that originated on her olfactory nerve. 

“Fourteen years ago, at the age of 35, Joni started getting spontaneous nosebleeds that would not stop,” Marczak wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Over the next year, she endured an 8-hour surgery to remove the tumour, permanently losing her sense of smell, and then persevered through a battery of post-op treatments.

“The cancer was declared in remission.”

With a new lease on life, Miller travelled to Belize because she “had a special love for Central America that had deepened through her work bringing students there for immersion and service experiences.”

She worked there for a decade, and formed a partnership with a friend and local entrepreneur to open a not-for-profit high school called the Ocean Academy on the island in 2008.

“The school has continued to thrive for the past decade thanks to Joni’s persistence — hours spent on grant writing, fundraising, teaching and acting as an administrator — seldom drawing a salary,” Marczak wrote.

After 10 years of non-profit service abroad, Miller brought Naijah to Canada last year, intending to establish a new life on Vancouver Island, but cancer intervened again before she could settle her daughter’s immigration status or find gainful employment.

Since Miller has limited savings and is too young to fully access her pension from her years as a teacher in Central Saanich, Marczak started fundraising to help cover the legal costs of pursuing permanent residency and ultimately citizenship for Naijah as well as payments for palliative radiation to treat symptoms of Miller’s inoperable brain cancer.

RELATED: Condolences pour in for child who died battling cancer

The legal costs include but are not limited to an estimated $10,000 retainer for a lawyer, Marczak wrote.

With the initial goal met, Marczak has raised the target by a further $10,000 to support Naijah, for example, to be used as a fund for her future education or career plans post-high school.

“Joni’s final wish is for her daughter Naijah to grow up and live in Canada surrounded by those who love her,” Marczak wrote. “With citizenship, Joni’s close friend, Sara, can become Naijah’s legal guardian and Naijah can remain in Canada to have the life Joni dreamed for her.”



karissa.gall@blackpress.ca

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Naijah, the 11-year-old adopted daughter of Metchosin native Joni Miller, pictured with some of her Canadian cousins. (GoFundMe/Laurie Marczak)

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