“Sarah was a phenomenal athlete,” says Caryl Dolinko of her late friend Sarah Butterworth. “She touched an incredible amount of people, from her field hockey to soccer. She strived for excellence. She was a good soul.”
Butterworth, affectionately known as Butter by her friends, not only possessed an enthusiasm for sport but a commitment to community, volunteering with youth and special-needs kids.
But her energy dimmed in 2000 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Butterworth’s queer circle of friends promptly rallied to provide help not offered by the health care system.
“The health care system can help, but [it is] not necessarily going to help for alternative treatment,” explains Dolinko, one of the many women who came together to support Butterworth for the duration of her illness.
Butterworth’s friends hoped the money they raised would provide her with holistic treatments as well as the basic comforts of life.
“The money would allow her to set up an apartment, go to a movie or go for a coffee,” says Dolinko, “Canada is amazing-we are so fortunate to live here-but it’s still limited in terms of having a buck and going to the movies.”
As Butterworth’s illness progressed and her income dropped, her friends pooled their talent and energy to raise even more money.
“Everybody called people,” recalls Dolinko. “We got an auction sheet together, we created a marketing sheet which we sent to people and companies, chatted with people, delegated tasks and on the night of auction we all showed up.
“It was a very big collaborative effort, an incredible collaboration by an incredible group of women.”
Their efforts were rewarded; the community turnout was considerable.
“The community pulls together at times like this,” says Dolinko. “A party is just a party unless there is a cause behind it, and then there is a reason to go out and help. That’s where community comes in. You’re there for a purpose, because you care.”
The overwhelming support at the first event buoyed the group to continue its work.
“When we saw the friends we had in the community we realized that it was possible. Over one hundred people showed up to Sarah’s first auction,” says Dolinko.
“If you offer people the opportunity to give of themselves they usually will,” she adds.
The friends’ hard work, coupled with the community’s generosity, eventually allowed Sarah to take a trip to Mexico. “It was the last trip she got to take,” says Dolinko. “It was the last thing she gave to herself and it’s something we helped give her.”
Butterworth died on Oct 23, 2003. She was 35 years old.
It was during Butterworth’s illness that another member of her circle of friends, Lauri Ann Daoust, was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension caused by clots in the pulmonary arteries.
Once again, the queer women came together to help a friend in need-only this time they took a name for their group: Friends Help Friends. The group’s goal: to raise funds to provide a safety net for their friends in the community who are in dire need.
“We’re just a group of friends; we don’t have by-laws or anything,” says Dolinko. “We just want to raise money and help our friends in need.”
As Daoust’s breathing deteriorated, it soon became clear that she would need a double lung transplant which could only be performed in Toronto. She would have to move across Canada to be ready when the transplant call came.
Friends Help Friends promptly assessed her needs, her relocation costs and how to raise the requisite funds.
They decided on a Halloween party and silent auction. The event was an enormous success, raising $17,000 from over 100 attendees.
“Lauri showed up to the party in a hospital gown carrying this IV pole that a movie production company lent her,” recalls her partner Corrine Hunt. “She added a little makeup for dramatic effect, which was really shocking. She attached the IV to a tequila bottle. Some of the people who didn’t know Lauri were totally shocked.”
Those who did know Daoust knew a person of indomitable strength and resilience, right up until the end.
“Lauri was the sort of woman who reminded her friends of the value of life,” Dolinko recalls. “She was a no bullshit kind of person, no room for games or drama.”
“I remember the first time she walked out of the hospital and the doctor was astounded she was walking,” says Hunt. “She was a miracle and many residents did papers on her. Her file is massively thick. She did what nobody thought she could do-which was live as long as she did.
“On the night she passed away they were going to try and use one more drug and if it was going to work it would work within half an hour,” Hunt continues. “She waited half an hour and then said, ‘It’s time to go.’ The doctor said, ‘Don’t you have any questions?’ and she said, ‘No.’
Daoust died surrounded by her friends on Feb 3. She was 43 years old.
Though Daoust and Butterworth have now both passed on, Dolinko says Friends Help Friends will stay together, though their future activities have yet to be determined.
Dolinko urges other community members to step up and help their friends in need, too. Her first piece of advice: “Stop talking and start acting.”
“People are in need,” she says. “It doesn’t mean you have to create a whole organization. You figure out the best way to help a friend-whether it’s throwing a party or contacting an existing organization.”