Olivia Yannacoulias turned two years old on Saturday. She’s still learning how to talk fluently, but mumbled ‘bus, bus’ as a fire truck blaring its lights and sirens came towards her for the start of her birthday parade.
As the parade went on, snuggled in her dad’s arms, she kept whispering ‘so fun, so fun,’ pointing at all of the balloons coming out of the vehicles driving by. Balloons are one of Olivia’s favourite things, along with dogs—which she calls ‘pup-pups’—a few of which also tagged along.
“We had no idea, it was actually a surprise,” said Olivia’s mom, Katie Chamberlain. “We were outside playing and then as soon as we heard a fire truck, I know I started crying immediately.”
“When we heard the fire truck, we thought that she was going to freak out, but she was so happy and everyone had their cars decorated and she didn’t look worried at all. She wasn’t scared. She just loved it and so that made it even more emotional.”
Olivia was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia—cancer of the blood cells—at the end of February. Because she’s immunocompromised, Olivia and her parents haven’t seen anyone in months to protect her from COVID-19.
After a recent allergic reaction to chemotherapy, Olivia’s treatment plan has been changing frequently. Sometimes, she has to go to the hospital five days a week and travels between Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
“She’s so tough. She just plays with stickers and balloons and everything and she gets through it,” said Katie.
“It’s a lot with COVID, I feel like she misses out on the connection with people.”
That’s why the parade was the perfect opportunity to celebrate her birthday. That’s according to Olivia’s aunt and Katie sister, Elizabeth, who helped organize it.
“Since (she was diagnosed), her life has been really full of procedures, medical procedures, and hospitals and stuff like that, and that’s been very hard on the family. They haven’t been able to live a normal life and especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re not able to really seek out the kind of close, physical support that they need from family and friends,” she said.
Family, friends, coworkers, firefighters and police took part in the parade.
“Everybody was waving at Olivia. It was just such an infectious atmosphere,” said Elizabeth.
“It was really emotional as well. People were trying to see through their tears while they were driving.”
While keeping a proper social distance, one by one, some of the participants dropped off gifts in the middle of the driveway. Olivia said ‘thank you’ and blew kisses at them.
Olivia was riled up after the parade, said Katie, and started opening up all of her presents and dancing and singing around the house.
Another one of Olivia’s favourite things is music, including the popular kids song Baby Shark. That’s why Katie and Antony, Olivia’s dad, threw her a Baby Shark birthday party for just their family to enjoy.
The next day, dressed in a pink dress and surrounded by pink streamers, Olivia did a cake smash on the deck.
“I really want to thank everybody who came out and did (the parade) and everybody who’s actively supporting Olivia, even if they didn’t come out,” emphasized Elizabeth.
“Sometimes people don’t get to see the effects of what their support does.”