A special woman passed away last fall, but her legacy lives on in Tillsonburg.
Donna Walton (1943-2015) was known to many as the Jewellery Lady, a fitting nickname for someone who for so many years collected 'gently used' jewellery to sell for charitable causes.
"Donna's mutliple myeloma caught up with her in a big hurry and they couldn't do anything for her," said husband John Walton, recalling September 2015.
"She was getting ready for palliative care... talking to the girls from the (St. John's) choir and she said, 'I want you to run one last big sale.'"
So John and Donna's friends decided to offer one last memorial sale. One final 'big sale' of gently used jewellery, carefully checked, cleaned and elegantly arranged on 10 tables at St. John's Anglican Church on Saturday, April 30.
Proceeds will support choir music at St. John's and ongoing repairs to the organ.
While the sale is going on – from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. – there will be a bake sale, and from 11-2 a tea room.
"At the same time, of course, we're showing off our hall renovations," said John, noting work was done at the church from July-November 2015.
Collecting 'pre-loved' jewellery to sell for charitable causes had been a lifelong pursuit of Donna's, who since 2008 successfully collected and sold jewellery locally to support St. John's Anglican Church, London Health Sciences Foundation, and Friends of the Library, to be used for children's summer programs.
Whatever didn't sell was saved for the next sale with more used jewellery coming in all the time.
The final sale on April 30 continues that tradition.
"We've had some donated since, but mostly it was Donna's stash," said John.
"When I sat here with the ACW (Anglican Church Women), who are doing most of this stuff, they asked 'how many pieces do you have?' I said, 'One thousand. More.' You should have seen their jaws drop," he laughed.
"There's tons and tons of earrings. We've got necklaces and bracelets. We'll have 10 tables set up in this room. People were very generous."
While John is handing off the pre-loved jewellery sales, the tradition is expected to continue on a smaller scale at St. John's Anglican Church.
"They (ACW) will be doing a jewellery table at every bazaar now," he nodded.
Although it won't be Donna out collecting jewellery, John is confident people will continue to donate to a worthwhile cause.
"In the past three weeks I've had people come forward saying, 'I have my mothers stuff... my sister gave me a whole pile of stuff, I didn't know what to do with it...'"
John knew exactly what to do with it, and on Saturday, April 30, that chapter – for him – will end.
"Remember Donna, and also come see our new facility," he smiled. "That's how I'm promoting it."
Donna's battle with cancer began when she was diagnosed with pre-leukemia (myelodysplastic syndrome) in December 2010. It was known to be incurable, but with treatment manageable.
“I just want to thank the people of Tillsonburg because they opened up their hearts to us," said Donna in 2012. "Wherever I’ve lived, we’ve had fundraisers. We have lived here in Tillsonburg for the past five years and I just can’t believe how much community cooperation there is here… in this town and in this community."
In November 2014, Donna emailed an update to friends and family.
"I think I forgot to tell you what Dr. Hsai said. I have iron overload (there is a medical term for it) due to all the transfusions I have had. The side effects are heart/kidney or liver damage. Therefore in February they are putting me on Exjade to reduce the iron overload. Exjade can give me kidney/liver or heart damage also and diarrhea and nausea. It is a terrible drug, he said, but I must have it. So mid Feb. I will be getting a pill a day. They will not give me a transfusion next week because of the iron overload... I am building up a bit of a resistance which is good, I don’t feel my hg. is low. Apparently one’s body can tolerate the lower hg. count. I am not looking forward to getting the Exjade in the New Year but I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Just thought I wanted to tell you all of this."
She sent another update on April 17, 2015.
"They are coming up with more and more marvelous ways of prolonging one’s life until the good Lord says – good job my Son. Three years ago they gave me three years at the most – now it is three years, and they are now saying 2-3 years or a little more. I had chemo for nine months and although both my blood cancers are incurable I count my blessings and each day is always a special day - I am finding it tougher to regain my strength after my transfusions but within a couple of weeks I feel great until the next round of transfusions. Your Dad is like all of us cancer survivors – we get tired and so weary and our bounce back isn’t as strong – but just enjoy as much as we can.
"On a personal note – I am doing okay. Not as well as I was two years ago but holding my own and the jewellery just keeps coming in. I am now called the Jewellery magnet."
On April 29, Donna wrote, "What a beautiful day."
And on May 4,"I have never lived in such a beautiful town (and we have moved 17 times)."
"One morning in May, I couldn't wake her up," John recalled. "She hadn't been feeling too great, nothing special. I came back at 11:30 in the morning and she was still sleeping. So I pushed her to wake up."
Worried by her lack of response, he called 911.
"They said, 'she's staying in, her kidneys are gone again. When kidneys take a hit they don't know why. They just flush you with fluid. She came out some time in the beginning of June."
On June 8, Donna emailed, "Dear Chris: I am in the ‘land of the living’ once again – just discharged from the hospital – my kidneys crashed again. I must learn to pace myself. Or I won't be around to enjoy. Take care – I hope your summer is going better than mine."
On June 24, "I am on a saline drip daily and tied to my house until Sunday. My life is at a standstill but whatever it takes to help clear my kidneys."
"After two weeks in the hospital, she was fine," said John. "The day after Canada Day, same thing. I couldn't wake her up. She was almost comatose. So back in again."
On that same day, July 2, Donna sent her last email to the Tillsonburg News.
"Please let me know how you are doing! LUV AND BLESSINGS, DONNA XOXOX."
"I think she got out toward the end of July," said John. "I said we're going camping. Not too far. So we took the trailer to one of the conservation areas here. She had two good days, one bad day. We got home and on Saturday morning she was in pain."
"She had a way of describing things," said John. "She said, 'it was a tornado.' The room was spinning. She hit her head so hard she had internal bleeding, so they took her straight to London."
At that time, doctors discovered her blood was 'out of whack.'
"She had a good year in 2014, but last year was a year from hell. I said I think the multiple myeloma is coming back and they said 'we're doing a bone marrow...' and it was back big-time. It should be treatable, but she had already gone so far, so fast.
"Her doctor said, 'we'll go aggressively, whatever you want. The outcome won't change.' Or, he said, 'we can just make you comfortable.' She said, 'comfort.' Just like that. No thinking.
"A pretty good girl," John smiled, showing the ring he still wears. "Pretty amazing.
"I am doing fine, and if I have issues it's not for me. It's because she didn't get a fair shake. She had so much to live for."