Cameron Mattice recently shared his story as a cancer survivor with the students at Our Lady of Mercy Elementary School to kick off their fundraiser for Sick Kids.
With his body healed, his mind at peace and his heart now open to the possibilities of the future, sharing the journey of his illness and healing with the students was a chance to close the circle. Before meeting with the kids, Cameron Mattice took his time to think about his message. While it is an emotional story to tell, he wanted his talk to be more than what happened to him. As he explains: “Then it would just be a sad story.” According to Cameron, he wanted his story to inspire the students to look beyond the obstacles in their life and find hope.
In October 2005, Cameron Mattice was diagnosed with Stage 4b Hodgkin Lymphoma. He was only 13 years old at the time, just beginning grade 8 at Our Lady of Mercy. The students were riveted as he shared the impact of the illness on his life. Before his diagnosis he thought cancer was an illness that happened to other people. “My entire future was ahead of me, and I dreamt of fulfilling life to its fullest. I remember that I felt invincible, much like a superhero,” he explained. Because of this mindset, he ignored some of the symptoms like a burning rash on his chest and his groin area as well as extreme fatigue. Finally, one night after a routine drill of running bases for baseball practice, he was extremely short of breath and asked to see a doctor. Without even ordering x-rays, the initial diagnosis from a doctor was asthma. After a week of using an inhaler with no improvement to his breathing, his family doctor investigated further with x-rays and blood work. Within hours he was sent to the emergency department at The Hospital for Sick Children.
When faced with the diagnosis, Cameron didn’t even know what Hodgkin Lymphoma was, but he could tell by his parents’ reaction that it wasn’t good. “I was just a kid. What had I done to deserve this? I had so much more to experience in life. I wasn’t ready for my life to come to an end,” he shared.
Hodgkin disease (Hodgkin lymphoma) is a type of lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are part of the body’s immune system. Over time, treatments have improved for this type of cancer so the main goal in treating the disease is a cure. For six months, the team at Sick Kids aggressively treated the cancer with chemotherapy, followed by radiation treatment. Cameron responded well to the treatments, and the cancer began to shrink after the very first round of chemo. But there were days when he felt sick, depressed and very lonely. Near the end of his treatment, he had to be hospitalized a few times because of the effects of the treatments on his red blood cell count. Despite the setbacks, he maintained his focus on getting better. Today, after seven years, he remains cancer free.
Unfortunately this was not the end of Cameron’s health issues. At the age of 17 he struggled with a severe blood clot in his right arm, a side effect of the pic line inserted into his vein for treatment. And then at age 19, he underwent reconstructive surgery on his right elbow. During this time he was dedicated to his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. As he grew stronger in body and as an athlete, he achieved many successes towards his dream. He was invited to play with Team Canada. He travelled with his team mates to New Mexico to play in the 18 and under World Series. And he attended college in Louisiana for a semester on a baseball scholarship. But he decided the risk to his arm was too great if he continued to play baseball, so he had to give up his dream and the sport he loved.
“I won’t lie and tell you it was easy to let my dream go. It was not an overnight decision, and it was difficult to accept it. I reminded myself that I am lucky to still be alive to experience all the joys that life has to offer. It’s been just over seven years since this rollercoaster ride began. While it has not been easy, I truly believe that these things happen for a reason,” Cameron Mattice explained. “After a lot of soul searching, I found a new dream that will hopefully have a greater impact on the world. My dream now is to share this journey with you, and many others, hopefully giving you the strength and courage to get through whatever setback you’re faced with in your life. In fulfilling this dream, I am currently going to university and plan to become a doctor of chiropractic medicine.”
After his speech, many of the children stepped forward to let Cameron Mattice know how much his story had touched them. A few of the students in grade eight acknowledged that it “hit close to home.” His story brought new meaning to their fundraising efforts. As he said: “If it weren’t for the doctors and nurses at Sick Kids, I wouldn’t be here today.”