Brantford goes gold for childhood cancer Awareness month, kickoff event celebrates survivors.
By Sean Allen
Jordan Thorne knows first-hand the kind of fairy-tale experience that Help A Child Smile provides for kids and their families that have been impacted by childhood cancer.
Thorne is a two-time brain cancer survivor and was a lucky recipient of one of Help A Child Smile’s all-expenses-paid Florida trips.
As such, Thorne was one of the first to shake hands with 10-year-old Kaleb Hitchcock, whose family was gifted with a trip courtesy of Help A Child Smile on the stage in Harmony Square on Sunday night.
“We got to laugh and make memories while forgetting about my illness,” Thorne said of his experience in 2012 at the Give the Kids the World Village in central Florida.
“It was a place we felt safe, happy and … helped us live for the moment.”
The village is a 79-acre, non-profit resort where families stay cost free with access to amusement parks including Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios.
Help A Child Smile raises money to provide children with cancer being treated at McMaster Children’s Hospital with some added joy in their life.
Kaleb and his family – mom Michelle, dad Allen and brother Trenten – were overjoyed to receive the word of the trip from Joyce Hutson of Help A Child Smile.
Kaleb was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012. After undergoing a long treatment, he has been cancer free for almost a year now.
The event on Sunday was a kickoff to Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September. The City of Brantford responded to a global movement to illuminate buildings and landmarks in gold light at nighttime during the month by placing gold lights in the base of the Harmony Square fountain.
The fountain was started up during a countdown at Sunday’s event.
The trip presentation and countdown followed a speech by Thorne, a Cambridge resident, about his experience as a childhood cancer survivor.
Now 18, Thorne was first diagnosed at the age of nine. The tumour was removed during an eight-hour operation.
Three years later, doctors found another growth that was determined to be cancer.
The second tumour was deemed inoperable.
“I was scared a bit, but I thought: ‘I beat the first one, so I’ll beat this one,” Thorne said.
Thorne underwent a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and beat cancer a second time.
He’s been cancer free for five and a half years now.
But he still lives with lingering effects of his diagnosis and treatment.
Thorne suffers short-term memory loss and cognitive issues. He can’t get a driver’s licence, but his parents got him a customized golf cart he can drive at the family’s trailer.
It’s common for childhood cancer survivors to have lingering effects.
The Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario estimates that 60 per cent of survivors face neurocognitive impairments, fertility issues, secondary cancers and other afflictions as a result of the disease and treatment.
Thorne enjoys public speaking and is looking for every opportunity to share his message of having a positive outlook.
“My parents taught me to never give up,” he said. “And when I can’t do something, we will figure out what I can do.”
Thorne closed with a rap verse about his experience with cancer that was met with applause from the crowd at Harmony Square.
Families affected by childhood cancer were invited up on the stage to help countdown the lighting of the fountain at 8 p.m.
The event started earlier in the afternoon with family friendly activities in the square, which included Freeway the Clown and his balloon animal skills, face painting by Melissa John, an arts and crafts table from Camp Trillium, performances by the Academy of Dance, two performers dressed as Ana and Elsa from Frozen to interact with kids and music by Marc Dubeau.
Maria’s Pizza cooked an over-sized pie with the Help A Child Smile ribbon logo and Sweet Bakery provided ribbon cookies. Levac’s Trophies donated childhood cancer ribbons for attendees.
Restaurants surrounding Harmony Square pitched in – with the Work’s providing a portion go the proceeds from their sales during the event to Help A Child Smile and Piston Broke hosting a barbecue in the square.
The event was the second annual Childhood Cancer Awareness Month kickoff.
Mayor Chris Friel said he was glad to see the event growing.
“There are children here who are cancer survivors and when you look around (at all the kids playing in the square), you can’t differentiate which ones they are,” he said. “That’s key to everything we do as adults. We try to make it so children can be children.”
Sean Allen is a reporter at Brant News. Connect with him on twitter @seanard.