Blitzed by glitz at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Festival of Trees Designer Day, you might not have noticed Cameron Wyman.
Tall, slim and quiet, the 12-year-old Gig Harbor girl was on task Tuesday as a member of her mom’s tree-design team, called A Ruby River Runs Through It.
At 9:30 a.m., she was sitting on the floor at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, unpacking strings of red lights. And so it went, through gold leaves and ruby berries, crimson balls and silvery twigs, certificates for fishing trips and fitness training.
Cameron was the artists’ apprentice, and their inspiration.
She is the girl who lived. She is the reason Rebecca and Russ Wyman have, for the past seven years, mustered friends to decorate trees with gifts beneath them, including cars and a Harley.
This year, the festival’s 25th anniversary, there are about 70 trees on display, ready for auction this weekend.
Cameron was 18 months old and teething when she had a fussy day.
“She didn’t eat her lunch,” Rebecca Wyman said. “I gave her some Tylenol and didn’t think much about it. We went on with our day.”
By evening, Cameron was worse. She was crying with her mouth so wide open her mom could see down her throat. It didn’t look right.
Rebecca called her pediatrician, who thought it was just a swollen tonsil. “If you want to be sure, why not take her to Mary Bridge?” the doctor said.
Rebecca Wyman is a mother who wants to be sure, always. So she did. It did not go well.
Three doctors examined Cameron and didn’t have answers. They thought it might be an infection, prescribed amoxycillin and suggested the Wymans visit their pediatrician in a few days if Cameron wasn’t better. She was in the office the next day, and again three days after that, when she got a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist.
“Oh, we see new patients in about six weeks,” that doctor’s receptionist told Rebecca.
“No, you don’t,” Rebecca replied. “You see this one later today or first thing tomorrow. Which do you choose?”
The next day it was.
“He took one look at her and said the tonsils had to come out,” Rebecca said. “He said, ‘There is a chance that your daughter has cancer.’ I’m sitting there alone with my baby, thinking, ‘Did he just say cancer?’”
He did, and it was.
Cameron had large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
For the next eight weeks, the toddler alternated between home and hospital for bone marrow biopsies, recuperation, and rounds of chemotherapy pumped through a central line to her heart. Her mother never left her.
Rebecca slept in the oversize hospital crib with her. She prayed for her and comforted her through every poke and pain and fever. She learned the value of a first-class pediatric hospital, but did not know hospital staff considered her a fine and fierce advocate for her child. It was painful, messy, exhausting, terrifying and enough.
Cancer-free, Cameron has lived to become a thoughtful preteen.
She baby-sits her younger sisters, kitty-sits for neighbors and makes Christmas packages for destitute children overseas. A student at Lighthouse Christian School, she especially likes studying history.
“I think it helps us understand better who we are today because of our past,” she said.
She remembers none of her own worst history but is honored that her family uses that bad time to do good for others.
This year, festival chairwoman Mollie Heilesen has set a goal of $2 million to buy a perfusion pump for heart patients and to support emergency services and the Tree House residence for families of sick kids.
“It feels good to know she’s helping to get kids a better life because of me,” Cameron said of her mom’s trees, and the role she’s played in decorating them. “We want to help other kids have a second chance of a good life. If it hadn’t happened for me, I wouldn’t be here.”
The world is a better place because she is, said her next-door neighbor and tree-teammate Lisa Huber.
“She is caring, compassionate, smart, grounded, beautiful,” Huber said of the girl who lived.
She is the inspiration that brings her mother and her friends back, every year, to raise the resources to save the next child, and the next.
Festival by the numbers
25: Years that the Festival of Trees has benefited Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center.
$19.2 million: Money raised for hospital during that period.
1,623: Trees that have been decorated and auctioned since the beginning.
9,738: Combined height, in feet, of all trees auctioned since the beginning.
500,000: Estimated volunteer hours since the beginning.
12,000-plus: People who attended festival events last year.