She lost both parents to glioblastoma. Now she’s helping other affected families ‘kill their dragons’

Dill, center, with her mother, Christine Seguin, and her father, Gerry Matthews.  Seguin and Matthews were diagnosed with glioblastoma within two weeks of each other in 2019, and both succumbed to the disease the following year.  (Submitted by Laura Dill - photo credit)

Dill, center, with her mother, Christine Seguin, and her father, Gerry Matthews. Seguin and Matthews were diagnosed with glioblastoma within two weeks of each other in 2019, and both succumbed to the disease the following year. (Submitted by Laura Dill – photo credit)

When Laura Dill learned in August 2019 that her father had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer, she decided to spend as much time with him as possible.

Dill, a busy wife and mother of three who also ran three businesses from her Orléans home, knew they wouldn’t have long — 12 to 18 months for most glioblastoma patients — and wanted the best of any remaining time together make minute.

I can’t control the outcome of the disease, I can’t control the prognosis, but I can control that they have a bright moment in their day. – Laura Dill

Then, 14 days after her father’s diagnosis, on Dill’s 37th birthday, her mother suffered a seizure and collapsed in her kitchen.

Incredibly, she was diagnosed with the same disease—her tumor was the same size, in the same part of the brain—and received the same grim prognosis.

“You go from two healthy parents to 14 days later, you have two parents who have a year to live, and within the year you have two parents who are dead,” Dill told CBC. “It’s a huge mountain that you can climb alone.”

Submitted by Laura Dill

Submitted by Laura Dill

Small gestures of kindness

Thankfully, Dill didn’t have to climb the mountain alone.

Her own inner circle of family and friends, including her close-knit hockey team, kept Dill afloat.

“[They’d] picking up my kids from school when i forgot them, honestly – forgot to be a parent, forgot to be a wife, forgot to be a friend. All I could do during that time, and all I could think about—and frankly, all I wanted to do—was be a daughter.

Submitted by Laura Dill

Submitted by Laura Dill

As news of Dill’s family tragedy spread, neighbors and others began bringing her meals, gift cards, and books to read during visiting hours. (Dill’s parents, who were divorced, ended up in different hospitals.)

“Strangers anonymously left gift bags with gift cards on my front door — people I’d never met,” she said.

Even on days when she just wanted to fall on the floor and cry, Dill said, those little gestures of kindness kept her going.

“There’s no way I could have gotten through this without the support of the community around us.”

Submitted by Laura Dill

Submitted by Laura Dill

kill dragons

When he received his diagnosis, Dill’s father, Gerry Matthews, told his family that together they had to “kill one dragon at a time.”

This image stuck with Dill as she watched her parents undergo numerous surgeries and cancer treatments, even as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to keep them from being by their side when they needed them most.

Submitted by Laura Dill

Submitted by Laura Dill

In February 2020, inspired by all the help and support she had received, Dill founded the Slay Society with the aim of helping other families dealing with the sudden catastrophe of a glioblastoma diagnosis.

By passing on the kindness received, Dill hoped to buy them some more quality time with their loved ones.

“I got the feeling how much they would regret at the end of the day if their loved one died – there’s no fixing it. But maybe I could give them a little bit of time back by putting money in their pockets.” she said.

It started with a few batches of Valentine’s Day cookies. Dill figured she could sell them and raise $50, enough for a gas card to help a family fill up their tank without worrying about the cost of a trip to and from the hospital.

It wasn’t a big deal, but it would show them that someone cared.

“A little joy. I can’t control the outcome of the disease, I can’t control the prognosis, but I can control that they have a bright moment in their day,” Dill argued.

Jean Delisle/CBC

Jean Delisle/CBC

“People need hope”

The cookies were a hit and the Slay Society raised $400, enough to fill several gas tanks. Next, an online auction of donated prizes raised more than $4,000.

Through her growing network, Dill began identifying families who were financially overwhelmed or otherwise struggling to cope and began offering help.

She raised about $9,000 for a single father of four who had recently been diagnosed “just to pay the bills.”

A woman was given enough to pay for several plane tickets from Calgary to Ottawa, where her father was in the hospital.

“Thinking about it, I could only cry how I gave this daughter time with her father that she otherwise wouldn’t have had,” Dill said. “She was overwhelmed by that.”

Submitted by Laura Dill

Submitted by Laura Dill

A trained gardener, Dill also organized a plant auction at a local brewery that raised $12,000 in a matter of hours.

Dill estimates the charity, which registered last year, has helped 20 families financially through its regular fundraisers and ongoing sale of Slay Society merchandise and “hundreds, if not thousands, emotionally” through its online support groups, one for carers and another Help those who have lost a loved one to the disease deal with their grief.

Because of the nature of glioblastoma, Dill said, there is a constant flow of members from the first group to the second.

“I was really scared to start it. I’m not a medical professional, but I’m human and I’ve experienced all of this firsthand — twice during a pandemic — and I know how lonely it is, I know how isolating it is,” Dill said.

“I can raise money all day and put $2,500 in a caregiver’s pocket and buy them fuel cards, but they [also] need a human connection. people need hope.”

Submitted by Victoria Trowbridge

Submitted by Victoria Trowbridge

“She gave us Christmas”

Hope was scarce when Victoria Trowbridge and her family first met the Slay Society. Trowbridge’s husband, John McAuley, was diagnosed with glioblastoma in late October 2021, four days before the couple and their two young children were due to move to Alberta, where they hoped to start anew.

“We’d pretty much sold everything we owned except clothes, so we were left without a home at that point. That’s when I knew I needed help,” Trowbridge recalled.

The Slay Society helped cover the cost of her accommodations in a number of hotels and Airbnbs while McAuley began treatment in Ottawa. The day before Christmas, Dill came by with a tree, decorations, gifts and crafts for the children.

“Laura was there,” Trowbridge said. “She gave us Christmas. We had nothing.”

Trowbridge said she also took full advantage of the Slay Society’s support group for carers.

“Everyone understood what I was going through and I had no shame,” she said. “It’s just a safe place where I could be myself again.”

Jean Delisle/CBC

Jean Delisle/CBC

A lifelong connection

Shawn Payer lost his 20-year-old husband Andy Gauthier to glioblastoma last April, 10 months after Gauthier’s first attack and subsequent diagnosis.

“We agreed he would be included when the time came, but we did everything we could to keep him at home for as long as possible,” Payer said.

However, delivering on that promise took a toll on the couple’s finances, so $1,500 gift cards for groceries and other essentials from the Slay Society went a long way.

“When that happens, you pretty much go from two incomes to one income, so it’s been tremendous for us to have that financial relief,” Payer said.

After Gauthier’s death, Payer joined the Slay Society’s bereavement group, where he found comfort and understanding.

“A lot of us lost loved ones, and now we’re on the other side, so we’re supporting each other, we’re talking about our feelings,” Payer said. “I think it’s a lifelong connection – for the wrong reasons – but it’s very important.”

Jean Delisle/CBC

Jean Delisle/CBC

Few resources for families

Payer, whose Carleton Place home is filled with memorabilia of life between himself and Gauthier, has himself become a staunch advocate for brain cancer awareness.

Last June he walked to raise $6,000 for the Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada, and next month he will participate in a darts tournament to raise money for the Slay Society.

“Unfortunately, there are little to no sources on glioblastoma. It’s the least funded cancer and the deadliest, so there’s not much education about it,” said Payer, who believes encountering Dill changed his own life for the better.

“She’s really helped me focus, she’s always checking on me. I admire what she is doing and that she can lose both of her parents and still keep fighting and fighting for it [victims of] this deadly disease.”

Jean Deslisle/CBC

Jean Deslisle/CBC

Dill, who’s been busy preparing for the Slay Society’s next big fundraiser – an online auction in late March – has now assembled a small board to help, although she continues to drive most of the planning and public relations.

She also works with an online company that uses real-world brain data to improve our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, and continues to lead the Slay Society’s well-attended support groups.

“I feel like I’m helping other people slay their dragons,” Dill said.


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