Like Tom Sawyer, Jeremy Ingham got to attend his own funeral.
Ingham died of cancer on Dec. 29 at the age of 22, a couple of months after he graduated from Acadia with a science degree and the university held a convocation ceremony just for him.
“There must have been 20 professors on stage, the president was there, the vice-chancellor, they all gave speeches. So Jeremy had his own convocation, the exact same as a real
convocation,” said his mother Jennifer. “He considered that his funeral. We had a big reception and a dinner afterwards, and that was put on by Acadia. He felt privileged that he was there, and felt that was his sendoff.”
Hundreds of people attended Jeremy’s graduation ceremony, including his doctors from Halifax.
“The only dry eyes in that convocation hall were Jeremy’s,” said Wolfville mayor Jeff Cantwell. “What a standup guy.”
When people start naming things after you while you’re still alive, you must be somebody special.
Jeremy was 15 when then
Wolfville Tritons coach Chris Stone renamed the Triton of the Year award the Ingham Award, not because he was so fast (he wasn’t), but because of his character.
“He always said ‘If I had swimmers that worked as hard as Jeremy, had the heart of Jeremy, I’d have all Olympians,’” Jennifer Ingham remembers. “To be honest, he wasn’t the greatest swimmer in the world. He swam competitively, but wasn’t extremely fast. But he was probably the most dedicated swimmer that you could ever coach.”
Jeremy was talented enough in
the pool to bounce back from a cancer-related hip replacement and copious amounts of chemotherapy to make the team at Acadia. He found a niche by discovering which events weren’t filled, and entering those to earn a few points for Acadia in the team totals.
“The top eight swimmers score points, so if there were seven people in there, he would swim it just to get points. Even though swimming is more of an individual sport, he was totally about the team,” said Jennifer Ingham, herself a former all-Canadian swimmer at Dalhousie. “He couldn’t understand a weak swimmer entering a popular event, like the 50-free, and coming in 40th, when you could swim an unpopular event and get points for the team.
“He set a number of goals for himself when he knew he was terminal, and one of them was for the Acadia men’s team to win the AUS (championship), and for him to be able to see that. We talked about him maybe not being here, but they all were working hard because they knew that’s what Jeremy wanted. They were like, ‘Dal has always reigned, but we’re on their heels, and it’s possible.’ Jeremy wouldn’t have believed it wasn’t possible.”
While swimming for Acadia, Jeremy noticed, as had others before him, that the men’s locker room was the opposite of swanky. So he donated money to help refurbish it, Acadia kicked in some and the Tritons made a donation, and now the locker room is totally revamped.
Jeremy tried to talk Acadia athletic director Kevin Dickie out of putting up a plaque to note who was behind the project, but the plaque is there.
Shortly before he died, Jeremy made a donation to the IWK Foundation to establish a cancer research trust, so that undergraduate students could gain experience and exposure to research. While he was going through his own therapy, Jeremy continued to do research into cancer and its treatments.
“We spent a lot of time
travelling between Wolfville and Halifax over the last five years to the various hospitals, the IWK, the QEII and the Dickson Cancer Centre. A lot of those trips back and forth, I’d drive and hold his hand,” said his father David. “Jeremy and I always had interesting conversations about politics and religion and sports and education, and mostly the health-care system. He noticed, I don’t want to say deficiencies, but some of his doctors were impressed, even in his last month, that he was always looking at ways they could improve the situation.
“Because as a teenager diagnosed with cancer, sometimes you have to run between the children’s system and the adult system. It’s difficult because you’re not really a child. At the IWK, people think of babies and toddlers, although there were several teenagers battling cancer at the same time Jeremy was. Then in the adult system, you walk in and people are wondering how does this happen to a 17-year-old, because he had bone cancer.”
When he was told in July that there was nothing more doctors could do, Jeremy’s parents took leaves from their jobs and brought him home. The family took a trip to England and then to the Toronto International Film Festival to see two films Jeremy was interested in. After that, his deteriorating lungs meant he couldn’t fly, so there were day trips around the province.
He had helped design a couple of the brews made by the Wayfarer’s Ale Society, so he and his dad tried craft beers wherever they travelled. “He never gave up hope, and that enabled Jennifer and I to be able to get up every day and put one foot in front of the other, and make him as comfortable as possible, and to carry on,” David Ingham said. “If not for the way he handled things, it would have been much more difficult for Jen and I to cope.”
Doctors noted Jeremy’s lack of anger or self-pity. While he was in remission in 2015, one of his oncologists called and asked for Jeremy’s help.
“They had a boy close to Jeremy’s age who hadbone cancer as well. He had to make a decisionwhether to have his leg amputated or to try tosave his leg like they were able to with Jeremy,
using what’s called limb salvaging surgery . . . he told him there’s hope after cancer, and that he could get better. This young man ended up having to get his leg amputated, and Jeremy went in to visit him and his parents. I spoke to both the father and mother afterwards and this boy’s parents said he was an inspiration to (their son).”
David and Jeremy skied and golfed together, once playing at Ken-Wo behind a foursome that included Sidney Crosby, with Jeremy cautioning his dad not to bother Sid while he was relaxing. One of the last things they did was watch the New England Patriots on TV.
Jeremy’s funeral will be held at the Baptist church in New Minas on Wednesday. He spent Christmas at home, for which he had ordered gifts online for family and friends.
“He was able to order a lot of things from Amazon books,” his dad said. “He wanted to give his physicians and nurses and close friends books. He was able to buy his mother a very special Christmas present. It’s a charm bracelet that he had picked out, with a heart on it.”
-The Chronicle Herald