Justin, whose family name has not been released, is 15-year-old from Saint-Georges-de-Beauce and the proud owner of a brand new chicken coop, thanks to Make-a-Wish Canada.
But Justin’s coop isn’t your average henhouse. First of all, it’s on wheels and secondly it was entirely designed and built by Justin as he was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer of the lymphatic system.
Justin was diagnosed with the illness in March, just as schools across Quebec were shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Justin says he woke up one morning with a lump on his neck.
At first he thought it was nothing, but his mother Carole thought it might be a side-effect of a vaccine he’d received the day before in preparation for a humanitarian mission abroad with his school.
They were both wrong.
Justin’s cancer diagnostic came down on March 19 and he was in hospital a few days later to start his first round of chemotherapy.
Justin admitted he was a bit fearful at first.
“When they explain all the side-effects, the dizziness, the vomiting, it’s a little scary,” he said. “But when I saw that, I told myself it was a good challenge to take on.”
The hardest part of undergoing treatments for Justin wasn’t the chemotherapy, nor the radiation, but having to stop training.
“I’m an active person, I played basketball but they put a picc line in my arm so I had to stop practices and playing basketball,” he said. “That was one of the most difficult parts.”
Then there were the long days and nights spent in hospital.
It was during one of those hospital stays, however, that Justin heard about Make-a-Wish Canada — a foundation that grants wishes to children battling life-threatening illnesses.
That’s when Justin’s dreams for a new chicken coop really started taking shape.
“Before my cancer, I had a small chicken coop in the backyard and I just developed a passion for hens. I really enjoyed it,” he said, adding he learned a lot through trial and error.
Prior to getting sick, Justin had plans to improve the current coop over the summer holidays with the goal of selling eggs locally, but the foundation allowed Justin to dream even bigger.
With plenty of time to kill in hospital, Justin started sketching, planning and drawing up a budget.
“I built my coop so that the hens would be as happy as possible,” he said. “That was my main goal.”
Part of keeping them happy is making sure hens have not only indoor space but an outdoor enclosure as well.
That’s one of the advantages of having a mobile coop, according to Justin, who designed the new unit to be built on a old hay trailer from the family farm that wasn’t in use anymore.
“After one summer in the same enclosure, there’s nothing left because hens eat everything, the grass, insects, everything,” he said, adding he can now just hook it up to the tractor and move the coop to a new spot when needed.
Justin also designed the new home to be low-maintenance and easy to clean, with automatic trap doors. With the house on wheels, Justin said cleaning is much faster. He can now just pull the coop to the septic tank rather than shovelling and using a wheelbarrow as he did in the old coop.
The new building is also energy efficient and hooked up with solar panels. Again, being able to orient the coop in a way as to maximize energy input is another advantage of the mobile design.
When all was said and done, it took Justin, with help from his dad and some friends — when pandemic restrictions allowed — some three months to build the structure.
The construction work also drew curiosity from locals and Justin’s 82-year-old grandmother would drop by on weekly visits to supervise the progress.
The hens moved in about three weeks ago.
Justin said it’s an experience he’s thankful for and will cherish for a long time.
“I’m super proud…I learned so much,” he said. “And I got to spend wonderful moments with my dad.”
A spokesperson for Make-a-Wish Canada told Global News that often children’s wishes involve trips, but because of the pandemic trips aren’t an option at the moment.
Pandemic or not, it’s fair to say that Justin’s wish was a bit unusual but nonetheless one the foundation was happy to grant.
“Justin’s wish is unique,” said Michelle Sylvestre, Quebec regional VP for Make-a-Wish/ Rêves d’enfants Canada.
“To know that the foundation could grant it, with the support of our partner BMR Group, even amidst a pandemic, is wonderful.”
Make-a-Wish said BMR allowed the foundation to “enhance Justin’s wish by providing him with extra equipment and a gift card to purchase chickens and poultry feed.”
Justin is currently in remission.