Fraternity becomes "part of family" for Dance Marathon patient


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A small silver box not much bigger than the tip of a finger dangles off a black leather necklace in Cameron Christiansen’s hand.

A member of last year’s University of Iowa Dance Marathon gave it to him, and Cameron has added just one touch to the inscription: Everything happens for a reason.

Attached with a thin wire is a silver bead etched with the number five. It’s been five years since Cameron had his last relapse of cancer, and at the Big Event today, he will officially “graduate” from Dance Marathon.

“Cameron is one my heroes, because even when he was struck down, he would just shrug his shoulders and say, ‘All right, let’s fight this,’ ” said Brian Martin, a former member of Sigma Chi. “As a sophomore, I wanted to spend more time at the hospital helping kids like Cameron, and that’s when I realized I want to keep helping kids fight these battles.”

Sigma Chi sponsors the Christiansen family and has done so since they began their journey in 2005.
Marci Christiansen, Cameron’s mother, said he hasn’t taken the necklace off since he received it.

Cameron was first diagnosed with Wilms tumor when a racquetball-sized mass was removed from his abdomen in 2002 just before his third birthday. This caused him to lose his right kidney.

He relapsed in 2004 when a softball-sized mass was removed. Then he had a new CAT scan in September 2006. When the Christiansens returned home, there was a message waiting on their answering machine.

“I told my husband I can’t do it, and I don’t even want to,” Christiansen said. “I saw his face, and that’s when I knew. I grabbed the phone and said, ‘You have to tell me.’ I didn’t want to go through it again, because every time it comes back a little stronger.”

Chad Howard, a former member of Sigma Chi, remembers a Dance-Marathon-sponsored trip to Adventureland. He and other members were able to ride with Cameron, a self-proclaimed “roller-coaster junkie.”

“Going around and riding the rides made me feel more like a kid,” Howard said. “It’s a great feeling when the parents trust you enough to let you go around with their kid.”

Sigma Chi members joined Cameron in a variety of activities, including video and board games, while he was in the hospital. Sometimes they would just stop by between classes. Over the years, he spent birthdays in the hospital, including one year when his “big brothers” bought him Donkey Kong Jungle Beat complete with bongo controllers.

“They always brought a smile to his face,” said father Richard Christiansen. “He could have the worst day, but he would always have a smile when they came.”

Richard Christiansen remembers when Cameron was forced to stay in the hospital for a long period of time because a transplant of his own stem cells was needed to combat his relapse. Sigma Chi members came and played Yahtzee. After each game, he would hang the scorecards around his room.

“By the time we left, he had the whole wall covered,” he said. “It meant a lot to us that they would stay there for hours until it was time for Cameron to go to bed.”

A small, golden hope sign sits atop the Christiansen family TV. In the middle is a heart-shaped rock that Cameron’s younger brother Connor found on the way back from school one day.

For now, the gold on the hope sign signifies kidney cancer. But Cameron, who wants to be a radiation oncologist, hopes gold will one day mean something else: the University of Iowa.

“I really want to be part of Sigma Chi and have an effect on someone else,” he said. “I want to encourage someone else with cancer, just like I have been many times.”

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