Matthew’s Story: The Hat

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day a different guest blogger will be featured who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer.  Stories are always more potent than statistics.     

By Kelli Tracy

It all started with a hat.  A simple baseball cap.  Unassuming, tan, a yellow sunshine on it – front and center.

The casual observer would think little of seeing it now.  Some might know where it came from and wonder.  Wonder about the young man currently wearing it.  Did he…?

No. He doesn’t. But his brother did.

Let me tell you about this cap.  This beautiful cap full of memories and joy.  Full of love.  Full of sorrow.  So much in one little hat.

My oldest son, Matthew, loved Camp Sunshine here in Georgia.  That’s where he got the baseball cap.  I can’t remember which summer it was given to him.  Doesn’t really matter.  It was one of four summers he attended.

Have you heard of Camp Sunshine?  It’s an amazing organization that holds its very special camps at an equally amazing facility.  When the kids go there, they are with other kids who know how they feel, what they’ve been through, what they are going through.  They feel normal.  They get to do cool things like rock climbing, horseback riding, cooking, crafts and so much more.  They stay up late and giggle.  They sing songs and swim.  Special people come to see them like the UGA football team.

These kids all have one thing in common: they have cancer.

It’s hard to send your child off to camp for a whole week.  Without you.  I think it might be even harder when your kid is medically fragile.  Matthew never thought twice about leaving us behind each of those summers.  He honestly thought one week wasn’t enough.  Can you blame him?  A vacation away from nagging, overly protective parents…yes, please.  He always came home seeming so much older, and more independent.  Such a wonderful transformation.

The hat.  It’s seen so much.

The hat visited Hawaii – we went with it.  In June 2008, we were blessed to have Matthew take us on his Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii.  Wasn’t that generous of him?  That hat with the yellow sunshine on it was worn all over the place for 7 days.  One of my favorite photographs of Matthew is of him, sitting on the beach in Waikiki in a hole he dug in the sand.  He’s looking over his shoulder at me – wearing the hat.

Matthew in his hat on that Hawaii beach.
Matthew in his hat on that Hawaii beach.

The hat was worn on at least one occasion to the infusion area at the local children’s hospital where Matthew received chemotherapy treatments just after his 13th birthday.

Matthew had a brain tumor.  For nine years.  Yes, had.  It didn’t go away, but Matthew did.  Less than a year after the Hawaii trip, Matthew passed away.

Back to the hat.  It means a lot to me.  But something else means even more to me.

My son, Cameron, recently wore the hat to a local nature camp.  He wore it almost every day and it was all I could do to let it out the door on his blonde head.  You see, the thought of losing it was overwhelmingly scary to me.  I had to remind myself that memories are not in “the things,” they are in my heart and soul.

Matthew's younger brother, Cameron, wearing the hat.
Matthew’s younger brother, Cameron, wearing the hat.

Wearing that hat brought Cameron joy – and kept the sun off his face.  Both important.  More important than worrying about whether the hat would come back in the door on his blonde head.

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If you would like to learn more about the good works of Camp Sunshine, click HERE.

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