What friends are for

Nine-year-old gives pal battling with cystic fibrosis a merrier Christmas in Abbotsford

Jaden Palmer (left) and Mackie Cameron.

Jaden Palmer (left) and Mackie Cameron.

friensMackenzie “Mackie” Cameron is only nine, but unfortunately, he understands suffering.

That experience has come through his buddy Jaden Palmer, whom he is eager to help.

Last week, Mackie organized a loonie drive at his school, Sandy Hill elementary. He wore a Santa hat stuffed with paper so it stood straight up, making the kids smile. He told them Jaden’s story.

In a letter sent to parents at Sandy Hill, here’s what he said:

“I wanted to tell you a story about my friend Jaden. Jaden is10 years old. He was in my Tae Kwon Do class until the last six months. Jaden loves to play hockey with my dad and I in our driveway. He loves math, just like me. I have not been able to see Jaden for a while because he has been in Children’s Hospital off and on since August. He has spent a lot of his life at Children’s Hospital. This year he has only been able to go to school for a couple of days. Jaden has cystic fibrosis. He can’t breathe like we can, his balance is not very good, and he coughs a lot. His lungs don’t work as well as ours do. Last summer Jaden’s heart stopped working but the doctors made it work again. The doctors have put him on a lot of new medicines. They have told his mum Kathleen that Jaden will have to go to the hospital every month for a stay of a week or more. Jaden has been running high fevers and it looks like another visit to Children’s is going to happen for Christmas.

Jaden’s mum Kathleen is a single mum. Kathleen is funny, nice and loves kids. She helped us when our dad got cancer last Christmas. She spent time with us and talked to my mum every day. Now she is worried, scared, and sad. Jaden’s medicine costs so much that she has little money left for food, gas, or Christmas. I want to help her have Christmas with Jaden. I asked for donations for cancer research or cystic fibrosis research for my birthday. I have decided to donate this money to Jaden’s mum so she can get the things she needs and maybe have some Christmas presents for Jaden. I am asking for help. If you would like to help, anything would be appreciated.

The fundraising began with Mackie’s birthday party in November. Among his presents, he got $55 that he was going to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society, but instead he asked if he could give it to Jaden’s mom.

It’s a bit surprising to hear that a boy in Grade 4 wants to part with birthday money, but the Camerons know the motivation. Mackie’s dad had a battle with cancer last year. It was Alan’s second bout with the disease, involving chemotherapy and a gruelling schedule of 35 radiation treatments.

It was a bad time for Mackie.

“He’s a compassionate kid, and he’s got a big heart. He really suffered a lot when I was ill,” says Alan.

Friends and neighbours looked after the Cameron kids and brought over meals while Alan went for treatment, accompanied by his wife Melissa.

“People were so supportive of us – the whole Sandy Hill community really came through for us,” Alan notes. “It’s a really closely knit group of families.”

The experience left its mark on Mackie. He was angry for a while, but worked through it with a counsellor.

Now, with compassion replacing the bitterness, he wants to help others.

For years, Alan was a goaltender in local adult hockey leagues, but these days he takes shots from Mackie and Jaden in the driveway.

“They’re typical nine-year-olds. We knew Jaden had cystic fibrosis, and it was a serious disease, but he had been doing fairly well.”

Hopefully, he’ll be well again soon. Jaden and his mother’s goal is to keep him healthy so he can be home for Christmas, rather than in hospital. He is just getting over a bout of pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung.

His mom Kathleen Palmer is a web designer who works from home so she can be with her son. It’s just the two of them, and she must deal with the cost of medications, travel and parking at Children’s, and other expenses. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be the recipient of charity, but Melissa and Alan didn’t give her much choice.

“I was a little overwhelmed,” she says. “It’s not surprising, coming from this family, but it’s still overwhelming.”

She considers Mackie’s efforts as particularly touching.

“They teach us adults lessons.”

Melissa says its repayment.

“She (Kathleen) talked me through a year of cancer treatments with Alan, so I owe her, and now’s the time.”

She understands people don’t want to be objects of sympathy, but there are times when they need support.

“And there’s a day you will give back.”

She and Alan are proud of Mackie.

“I’m delighted with him, and my daughters too,” says Alan, noting that Bella and Sasha have joined in the fundraising campaign.

“A lot of times, at this time of year, they think about ‘what can I get,’ but this has diverted their attention.”

It’s the kind of thing that restores Alan’s faith in mankind.

“People get very cynical about other people nowadays. But when it comes right down to it, when situations get bad, people help each other.”

Jaden appreciates his friend’s work on his behalf.

“Mackie is a one of a kind. He has a heart. He will do things for other people, not to get anything back, but just because he’s nice.”

Anyone interested in donating to Mackie’s fundraising effort can contact the Cameron or Palmer families at macameron@shaw.ca and tiggerhappy@shaw.ca respectively.