To a casual outside observer he probably looked like the typical Fort McMurray young adult: a girlfriend, a keen interest in snowmobiles and ATVs and a love of the outdoors. At the young age of 18, though, Jeremy Snook had already left a strong impression on those who knew him, drawn to his magnetic personality that shone like a beacon of positivity and pure energy. He was at the very beginning of adulthood, starting a post-secondary education that would allow him to develop the mechanical skills he had already displayed during his early years. Jeremy was living a life of no regrets and no excuses, just as his tattoo read, and embracing every opportunity to connect with people in a way that made both him and them happy – and thus it would come as a profound shock to all who knew and loved him when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
“Jeremy was unique,” says his father Brian Snook, pride shining through the evident pain as he remembers the young man who left his family, and this world, far too soon. “It was his friends who described him as magnetic. They tell us stories about how he was always surrounded by a crowd at school because people just wanted to be close to his laughter and his smile. He played on the soccer rep team when he was a young teen, but he never really worried much about the score at games – he was more interested in his team mates and in keeping their spirits high whether they won or lost.”
The Snook home is filled with photos of Jeremy, forever frozen in time at the age of 19 when cancer took his life. The young man with the infectious smile and charming personality began to experience severe headaches when he was 18, initially being diagnosed with migraines. When the headaches began to be accompanied by nausea and vomiting his mom Gail says her intuition kicked in, and she knew something serious was happening to her son.
“He called me to say he had to pull over to vomit while he was driving as the pain in his head was so bad,” says Gail Snook, who was in Newfoundland when her son called. “That’s when I called Brian and told him that we needed to get Jeremy to the doctor right away and insist on a CT scan or MRI.”
Gail’s instincts and her intuitive knowledge of her son were accurate. The tests quickly showed a brain tumour, and Jeremy’s journey with cancer treatment, including surgery, began.
It is difficult to imagine the shock and fear his diagnosis must have generated in his large circle of family and friends. A vibrant young man, Jeremy was perhaps the last person one would expect to be struck with cancer. Through his entire cancer journey, Jeremy was incredibly stoic, displaying a strength and wisdom that seemed far beyond his age.
“He only cried in front of us twice,” says Brian. “The entire time. Twice,” he adds, noting the bravery and resiliency of a young man who undoubtedly knew he was facing an uncertain future and yet who approached it with courage.
Sadly, despite the intensive treatments and the best medical care available, Jeremy’s condition continued to decline, and he spent his final days in palliative care at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre. When he passed away, at only 19 years old, his parents vowed one thing: Jeremy’s name, and his story, would not be forgotten.
Having spent a significant amount of time at palliative care they knew that the quality of care was excellent for both family and patient, but that there could be improvements made to provide more comfort during a painful and difficult experience. Jeremy’s parents began fundraising for a new palliative care suite at the NLRH. At a cost of $250,000 it was not an endeavour they undertook lightly, but they were committed to ensuring his memory was honoured and remembered.
But even when that goal was accomplished through corporate and business donations, Brian and Gail were far from finished in their desire to build a legacy for Jeremy. The Jeremy Snook Memorial Car Raffle was designed to raise funds through a chance to win a coveted Dodge Challenger SRT8. The 300 tickets available sold out in 3 weeks, despite a cost of $500 per raffle ticket.
“1 in 300 odds were pretty good,” says Brian. “And it was for a good cause, as the $97,000 raised went to improve palliative services through the Northern Lights Regional Health Foundation, the fundraising organization associated with our local hospital.”
During Jeremy’s journey with cancer his family and friends came together to form “Team Snook”, a group to participate in the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life along with Jeremy during his final year of life. After his death Team Snook has continued to grow in strength and commitment to keeping Jeremy’s memory alive, including participating in events such as the annual Relay for Life, Santas Anonymous and an extremely successful food drive for the Wood Buffalo Food Bank that will become an annual event held every year on October 3rd in memory of Jeremy. The loss of Jeremy inspired his parents, as well as his extended family and friends, to volunteer and give back to the community, all in the name of a young man who was taken by a terrible disease before he had the opportunity to fully explore his potential – but that he left a mark on those who loved and knew him is beyond a shadow of a doubt, and through them he continues to leave a mark on the world.
“Jeremy was a loving young man,” says Gail of the boy who, regardless of his age, always kissed his mother goodbye when he left the house and was never embarrassed to show her affection in front of his friends. “He was respectful and he was thoughtful – he hated to see me upset, and now I try to be strong for him because I know it would be hard for him to see me unhappy,” she adds, her soft voice tinged with a depth of sorrow only a mother who has lost a child can possibly know.
“After he passed away his friends told us so many stories about him,” says Brian. “Kids we didn’t even know told us about how Jeremy was there for them when they needed him. It’s like he knew when other people needed someone to make them laugh or smile, and people were just drawn to him because he was the one who could do that. There were so many things we learned about him after he was gone,” Brian adds of a young man who may have died at 19 but who lived with joy and enthusiasm, embodying the very concept of no regrets and no excuses.
“Jeremy was my world,” says Gail softly. “Jeremy was my everything,” she adds, recalling her son and his role in her life.
“If there was one thing I could tell the world about my son?” says Brian when asked. “I would tell them how special he was. How unique Jeremy was.”
And so it seems to be, as Jeremy Snook may have lived for only a short time but he left a tremendous impact on those around him, inspiring the acts of kindness and generosity now carried out in his name. Over 45 people now proudly bear a tattoo reading “no regrets, no excuses”, a tribute to a young man who touched so many lives during his own short life. That is, perhaps, the very definition of unique, and the best legacy anyone could hope to leave in this world.
Your McMurray Magazine