Gabriel Callicum smiled and looked around the crowd of cheering students inside the gym at École Robb Road Wednesday afternoon, and took a step even closer to the row of Tour de Rock riders standing next to him.
Gabriel is a five-year-old kindergarten student at the school, and is the reason why the 18 riders are biking the length of Vancouver Island during the next week-and-a- half.
He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was two-and-a half years old, the most common type of childhood cancer, explained his mom, Jeannine Lindsay.
But it’s because of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock, that Gabriel got be a normal kid and go to camp, she noted.
Lindsay and her son visited Camp Goodtimes for the first time this summer, a safe, fun, recreational program at no cost to families and participants for children and teens with cancer.
The camp is located at Loon Lake in Maple Ridge, and fundraising from the Tour goes to support the camp and its operations.
“When we were there, it was the first time since Gabe’s been sick that we both felt normal,” Lindsay explained. “It’s so nice to be with others who are going through the same situation.”
In February 2010, Lindsay took her son to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox when she thought Gabriel was suffering from a fever.
“Within half an hour, I knew something was wrong,” she said, and explained two hours later, doctors proceeded to fly them to Vancouver where the very next day Gabriel had his first surgery and was administered chemotherapy.
“They knew right away he had leukemia,” she said.
They spent the next eight months in hospital in Vancouver, followed by multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, and finally returned to their Comox home where Callicum had to spend four months in isolation, due to a compromised immune system.
Two-and-a-half years later, Lindsay said Callicum continues with daily chemotherapy, along with visits to St. Joseph’s Hospital and a visit to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver every three months. She explained he has an immune system half of that of a healthy five-year-old, but despite what he has gone through, has never complained about his sickness.
“He’s never been sad and he’s always smiling. No matter what he’s gone through, he’s never complained,” noted Lindsay. “To him, it’s life.”
Lindsay and Callicum plan on returning to Camp Goodtimes next year, and said they have used this experience to talk to students, parents and to bring awareness to a special cause.
OneMatch.ca, a stem cell and marrow network recently made a documentary about Callicum entitled Gabe’s Journey (available to watch on YouTube), to bring awareness and encourage Aboriginal people to register as stem cell donors.
“Only one per cent of aboriginal people in Canada are donors,” noted Linsday. “We’ve done a lot of public speaking, and had to open our lives up, but in a good way.”
For more information, or to donate, visit www.tourderock.ca.