ARLINGTON — Debbie Howell admired the beauty of Whitehorse Mountain covered in fresh snow.
Some of her son’s ashes are up on the mountain, brought there by a friend who flies helicopters. Cancer took Cameron Howell from his family 12 years ago. He was 26 years old.
To honor her son’s memory and help others, Debbie Howell brings an annual offering of blankets, games, puzzles, journals and other goodies to Cascade Valley Hospital. She’s collected donations every winter since she lost her son. A donation box is set up at Magic Shears, the salon in downtown Arlington that Howell owns with her husband and high school sweetheart, Randy.
The Howells are accepting donations until Dec. 21 at 306 N. Olympic Ave. All donations go to Cascade Valley, where they are divided among patients and families in the oncology unit and those in the emergency room.
Debbie Howell remembers the long days in hospitals when Cameron was getting treatment for squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
“My biggest goal is to make sure that people have something to do, some kind of comfort, when they’re in the hospital,” she said. “You’re there and there’s nothing to do. And they get cold. My son was always cold.”
Cameron grew up in Arlington and graduated from high school there in 1996. He loved sports, fishing, hunting and old cars. He took pride in his 1964 Chevrolet Impala. He also bought a show truck, but had to trade it in after he was diagnosed so he could get a more comfortable SUV for trips from his parents’ home in Darrington to treatments in Seattle. His mom still drives that SUV.
Cameron worked at Hampton Lumber Mill, coached basketball and helped at the local Boys &Girls Club. He spent a lot of time with his older sister, Angela, and her daughters in Stanwood. Along with his immediate family, he left behind dozens of friends and a fiance.
“Camille still keeps in contact with me,” Debbie Howell said. “We call her our angel. She was there to take care of him.”
Cameron was a gentleman, always hurrying to hold open doors or offering his bright smile to passersby. He was charming and sometimes rowdy. He liked being around people and made friends quickly, his mother said. The “Oso boys,” as she calls them, still bring her a Christmas tree every December. There are little boys and girls around the Stillaguamish Valley named after Cameron.
“We just had a great-grandbaby named after him,” Howell said. “We have seven babies named after him now, in a pretty small town. It’s such an honor when someone comes and asks us.”
Cameron’s story also resonates with strangers. Last year, a class of third-graders from Snohomish brought in a big box of donations for the hospital, Howell said. She encourages parents to take their kids to the dollar store to pick stuff out and explain to them why people need help and where the donations are going.
Along with a way to honor their son’s memory, the donation drive is a chance for the Howells to give back to a community that supported them.
“When Cameron was really sick, he didn’t have insurance, and people in the town just rallied,” Debbie Howell said. “We had a couple of benefits and raised the money for his treatments. The town has just always been wonderful. They still come in without even being told and bring something in memory of Cameron.”
Last year, her customers donated $200 in cash and she went shopping to buy fun scarves for cancer patients who lose their hair and journals for patients to keep track of their thoughts. Cameron kept a journal and it helped him, she said.
Magic Shears is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People can drop off donations any time during open hours.
“We are so appreciative for the donations and the people’s thoughts and prayers …” Debbie Howell said. “I’m thankful to each and every person that comes in and donates. My whole family is.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.