Refuse to Sink

As told by Jody Carrow

“It’s a thing now. It’s life.”

The ‘thing’ in the above quote refers to one young person’s coming out as transgender. And the ‘life’ belongs to Frankie Edroff, a young man I was fortunate enough to interview for the Unsinkable project. I had just asked Frankie what the response was to his coming out and how supported he felt not just at the time, but now as he undergoes hormone therapy to physically change his appearance from female to male. He told me that people have been hugely supportive of him and that his mental health has been positively impacted because he is finally starting to feel at home in his body. I was relieved to hear this had been his experience because it is not the same for everyone in his situation.

“Oh, for sure,” he agreed. “That’s why I’m now an advocate for the LGBTQ community. I want to show people how to be brave and empowered and how to do what’s best for them…when people don’t feel accepted and acceptable it harms their mental health massively.”

But before he can get busy with his advocacy work, Frankie is facing a significant hurdle: another tumour. This time pancreatic. When I spoke with him, he was awaiting transfer from Victoria General to Vancouver General Hospital where there is one surgeon who can remove it. Until it is taken out and tested, Frankie has no idea whether it is benign or not. His focus though, is not on the constant pain, worry about the surgery and test results, or his inability to eat: it’s on going home as soon as possible to “get back to living a normal life.” When asked what ‘normal life’ looks like back in Victoria, he mentioned his job at a pet store, his dog, his friends, and his love of music and, with what I was beginning to appreciate as his characteristic wry sense of humour and mastery of understatement he added, “You know, nothing majorly interesting.”

OK, maybe not if you are like most people his age, but majorly interesting because it’s Frankie. Most of B.C. – and Canada – met Frankie in 2001. At the time, she was a 7-year-old girl named Jeneece who was using her neurofibromatosis diagnosis as a platform to raise money to create fully funded short-term housing for families whose children needed medical treatment in Victoria. Dubbed the ‘Penny Girl’, she challenged people across Canada to donate their pennies to the cause, eventually raising over 1.5 million dollars. In time to celebrate her 18th birthday, Jeneece Place at Victoria General Hospital opened its doors to families.

Frankie’s 25 years on earth have been defined by flux – in health (chronic pain, tumours, multiple surgeries) and now in his body – but there is an essential element of him that he undoubtedly was born with and remains unchanged today: fierce optimism and determination. “I was just born this way,” he explains when pressed to reveal the source of his inner strength, “I’ve always been someone who’s looking for the positive.” The tattoo by his collarbone illustrates this perfectly: it’s an anchor with the words Refuse to Sink inked over it.

I’d like to give Frankie the last words of this article because they are valuable advice for anyone who is struggling with something that feels insurmountable:

“Yes, times are tough, but there is a rainbow on the other side of the bridge. You just have to go over this hurdle, keep fighting and stay positive. Try every day to find one person or thing that makes you smile or laugh and things will get easier.”

Note: I caught up with Frankie on April 1st. I wanted to hear how things were going, whether the operation was successful and if he was back home in Victoria yet. The news wasn’t great: the tumour turned out to be inoperable and further exploration has revealed that all the tumours in Frankie’s body (which are numerous enough that he has lost count) are “on their way to becoming cancerous.” He is back in hospital in Victoria and receiving treatment. He misses his life outside the hospital and his dog terribly but is keeping his days filled as best he can. He still made me laugh and has definitely not lost hope despite what he now faces. Instead, he is actively refusing to sink. And working hard on his Rubik’s Cube.