as i’ve mentioned in this blog before, one of the core reasons i went to peru last year, to volunteer in the poverty stricken community of pumamarca, was to gain some perspective. and i gained perspective, no doubt. but it didn’t miraculously subdue my personal expectations or help me live a more carefree life. damn it.
camp quality was a similar story. i started volunteering with camp quality in north queensland in 2004 and continued until i left townsville in 2007. while the good deed factor was one motivation, a more selfish reason – and a significant one - for signing up was, again, to gain perspective. once again, perspective gained.
i was teamed up with henry* – a sweet seven-year-old who had, a year-or-so earlier, been diagnosed with a brain tumour. his body had been battered by months of chemotherapy and radiation by the time we met. he was almost never without his cap which hid a permanent bald patch on the back of his head. my role as a camp quality volunteer was basically to be his mate. and mates we became.
my favourite memory, although it’s very much bittersweet, was when i took henry along to watch the north queensland cowboys take on the newcastle knights from the media box (i’m a sports journo for those playing at home) early in the 2006 season. the cowboys are heroes in townsville, although they were henry’s second favourite team after the brisbane broncos. he had, after all, spent so much of his young life in brisbane where he had to travel for treatment. post-game, we happened to leave our perch just as the cowboys’ then-coach graham murray was leaving the coaches’ box. i introduced the two and murray invited henry to the dressing room to meet the players.
despite the possibility of catching a scantily clad luke o’donnell, i chose to wait outside but, as the door swung open and closed, i caught sight of henry chatting with matty bowen, shaking hands with paul rauhihi and smiling in awe as the team song was belted out.
they were such gentlemen and henry left dairy farmers stadium that night with some sweaty cowboys memorabilia and a new favourite team.
weeks later, henry lost his battle with cancer. he was nine.
it was not the introduction to camp quality i had expected. perspective hit me hard.
yet, before too long, i had slipped back into complacency. i would often think of henry. i continued to remind myself how lucky i was. but i had to remind myself. i don’t want to need reminding. i just want to know it. live it.
i stayed in touch with henry’s family. the contact lessened but continued when i moved south the next year. before long though, it increased again. henry’s brother sam was diagnosed with a brain tumour, just like henry, in 2007. trips to brisbane, not too far from my new home, became commonplace all over again.
i could never comprehend what the hardings went through with henry. i know it tore at them but still, they seemed so strong. stronger than i think i could have been. to go through it all over again, and with the wounds of the first experience so fresh – i have no words. none.
sam lost his battle with cancer last week. barely a teenager.
fucking wham! welcome back perspective. stick around this time, won’t you?
rest in peace sam. i hope you and henry are reuniting over a game of boofhead or two.
*i’m not sure if it was necessary, but i’ve changed names to protect privacy etc etc.