THUNDER BAY – HEALTH – It takes John Tuokko between five and ten minutes to draw one of his famous caricatures, but for out-of-town cancer patients at the TBaytel Tamarack House, they are timeless.
“One time a woman saw me doing a caricature here and came over to talk to me,” says Tuokko. “Her husband was here for treatment and she said I had drawn her father years ago. She said that after he passed away, her youngest son asked if he could keep the drawing of his grandfather and she told me that he put it on his bedroom wall so that the first thing he sees when he wakes up is his grandfather.”
Every second and fourth Wednesday of the month, Tuokko comes to draw caricatures for patients staying at TBaytel Tamarack House. It has been called a “home away from home” for cancer patients coming for treatment at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. Many come for complex radiation therapy that requires stays in Thunder Bay for up to six or eight weeks at a time. More than one-third of 1400 new cancer patients each year come from communities in Northwestern Ontario.
Distance and separation from loved ones adds to the challenges that a cancer patient already faces, so having a comfortable place to stay with emotional and social supports is very important.
“John’s gift of drawing and friendly visit adds special meaning to the patients and families he meets,” says Liz Straiton, Manager, Volunteer Services. “We appreciate his commitment of service.”
Tuokko, who started volunteering in 1993 at Amethyst House, the former lodge located on Munro Street, says he has always loved to draw. At the age of 5, he looked forward to his father coming home from work at the mill with scrap paper for him.
After studying Commercial and Advertising Art at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Tuokko worked at Lakehead University’s Media Services, then at Eatons and Sears in display advertising, and at a local mill. He also worked part-time as an attendant at both Amethyst House and Tbaytel Tamarack House.
For close to 9 years, he tackled local, national, and international issues as the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal’s editorial cartoonist. “In total, I did 390 cartoons,” he says. “Not all of them were printed. For every three I’d draw, sometimes two were rejected.”
It wasn’t until 1992 that Tuokko was first asked to try his hand at caricatures, for the Vale Community Centre’s open house. “I didn’t think I was that good. I guess we tend to be our own worst critics.”
That event got Tuokko noticed by the City of Thunder Bay’s Parks and Recreation division who asked if he could help out at Summer in the Parks. He has been a fixture at Summer in the Parks for the past 20 years and all money raised goes to the Shelter House.
At Tbaytel Tamarack House, Tuokko does not ask his subjects for payment. “I start drawing and then I ask people if they’d like a caricature of themselves. I tell them you’re in luck. It’s 100% off today.”
He asks people about their interests and hobbies and tries to incorporate those into the drawings.
Tuokko says he finds it very rewarding. “I’ve met a lot of people. I enjoy it and, from what people tell me, they enjoy it too.”
At TBRHSC we are always looking for Volunteers in the Cancer Centre, to greet, serve refreshments, and provide a friendly visit. If you are interested, please contact Volunteer Services at 684-6266 or apply online at http://www.tbh.net/about_TBRHSC/volunteer_services.asp