ARLINGTON — People remember Cameron Howell, the tall, friendly man who loved sports, old cars and the outdoors.
He graduated from Arlington High School in 1996 and balanced work with his favorite pastimes — coaching basketball, hunting and fishing. He had a symbol tattooed on his wrist that meant longevity, got engaged to a girl he met in Darrington, and spent a lot of time with his older sister and her daughters in Stanwood. Cameron adored his nieces.
His family adored him.
He was 26 when he died on Jan. 13, 2004. He’d battled squamous cell carcinoma — a skin cancer usually diagnosed in older patients — for at least three years. Doctors found it when he went in for a shoulder injury, and they’re not sure how long he had it before it was identified.
“Your biggest fear when you lose a child is that they’re forgotten,” said Debbie Howell, Cameron’s mother. “That hasn’t happened.”
The community found ways to remember Cameron, and to give back.
This year is the 10th anniversary of Cameron’s death. It’s also the 10th birthday of the holiday donation drive created in his honor.
Magic Shears Styling Salon, owned by Debbie, 57, and her husband,Randy, 60, has a drop box for new lap blankets, hats, activity books, stationary and pens, coloring books, toys and other small activities. The items are donated to Cascade Valley Hospital for oncology and other departments where patients and their families spend hours at a time in the hospital.
Debbie remembers long days during Cameron’s chemotherapy. He had a hard time staying warm, and the family struggled to entertain themselves and keep their minds off the cancer. Her goal is to make sure other families have warmth and fun when they need it most.
Debbie plans to keep the box in the salon, at 306 N. Olympic Ave., until Dec. 20. People can stop by any day of the week to drop off donations or call 360-435-3833 for more information.
A handful of families work with the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation on memorial drives and fundraisers, but it’s not common and the donations are always needed, foundation spokeswoman Heather Logan said. Last year, the donations from Magic Shears included brand new toys that went to children in the emergency ward.
“In an emergency, parents don’t have time to grab a toy or a game, they just have to get their kid to the hospital,” Logan said. “These donations make a difference. That kind of sensitivity to patients, especially children, is great.”
All of the gifts are used at the hospital, so the donations stay with local families, Logan said.
Debbie thinks Cameron would like to be remembered through kindness and generosity.
She carries a photo of him, a bright smile on his stubbled face, in her wallet. She walks in the Relay for Life every year wearing his letterman jacket.
Cameron’s friends from high school still stop by the salon or the Howell’s home in Darrington to check in on them. Their son was well-liked, and his friends have provided constant support for the family, Debbie said.
“I didn’t want to do a Christmas tree the year we lost him, but his buddies came by and said, ‘You will have a tree,’” she recalled.
Cameron’s friends have hauled a Christmas tree to the house every year since. Others drop by with flowers and gifts on Mother’s or Father’s Day. Some have named their babies after him.
“We have three girls and three boys named Cameron, so we get to watch them grow,” Debbie said.
The Howells knew they were part of a generous community, but the response after Cameron was diagnosed shocked and humbled them. Dances in Arlington and Darrington brought in thousands of dollars, as did change jars at Magic Shears and other local businesses. The community helped pay Cameron’s medical expenses. What wasn’t covered was given, Debbie said. Some doctors volunteered their time, and a local pharmacist provided medicine for free.
Debbie and Randy, high school sweethearts who have owned Magic Shears for 35 years, started collecting donations the November after their son died. A friend suggested the drive, and it seemed like a good a way to pay forward the kindness that was shown to the family. For about six years, they donated to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. For the last four years, the family has given to Cascade Valley Hospital.
“I just tell everybody to give your kids a big hug and love them because you never know,” Debbie said. “Things happen. We were a really close-knit family. Cancer took a lot from us.”
Kari Bray: email@example.com; 425-339-3439