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Community hugs one of its own with support for charities and a wish granted

The Campbell clan with head coach Mike Babcock and player Mitch Marner in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room. – Wendy Goodman photos

By Sharon Harrison and Sue Capon
Mark Campbell was just seven years old on his first trip to see the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team play at the Gardens.

And though he has returned rink side many times over the years to cheer on his favourite team, his trip last week – almost 51 years to the date of his first outing – was the one he will cherish most.

Last Sunday’s excursion to the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto to see the Leafs play the Arizona Coyotes was a long-time wish fulfilled – to see a Leafs game with his grandchildren and family.

The wish was granted through the efforts of family, friends and community following a shocking and heartbreaking diagnosis 10 days earlier, that Mark, 59, is fighting stage four lung cancer.

Within days, wheels were put into motion for the long-time County resident. He was the former owner of Canadian Tire in Picton, following in his dad’s footsteps. Today he’s known for his love of motorcycles and his dedication to a new career as an optician working with his daughter, optometrist Billi Campbell. He is also well known as a volunteer radio host on County FM.

Sister-in-law Wendy Goodman was quick to mount the GoFundMe campaign on the internet to help offset costs to grant his wish.

Darryl Sittler signs autographs with Mark’s grandson Emerson, 2½, and Mark’s wife Heather.

“Last Thursday, January 10th, our cherished Mark was diagnosed with lung cancer,” Goodman wrote. “Mark, who also goes by Soupy, Marky, Dad, and is most fondly called Grampy by his grandchildren, has one great wish… to go see a Toronto Maple Leafs game with his grandchildren and his family.

“This fundraising campaign is to help provide four generations; his parents, Mark and (wife) Heather’s children and grandchildren, along with other family members one instantaneous amazing memory they can hold on to for the present and into forever. Time is of the essence.”

Immediately, Sherry Karlo was on the scene. She knows all too well about a devastating cancer diagnosis. Her husband Richard, co-founder of Karlo Estates Winery, died in November 2014 following a swift and intense battle with cancer. Before his death, the couple had teamed up with Hockey Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour to develop a premium wine under the Gilmour label.

She called on him and the Leafs Alumni to help obtain the box suite needed to accommodate the 12-member Campbell family. Toronto Maple Leafs suites at Scotiabank Arena generally cost between $6,000 to $18,000.

“The community rallied,” said Heather Campbell, the light of Mark’s life for 38 years married, though they’ve known each other for 48 years. “Sherry’s tenacity with it was second to none.”

Campbell clan cheers on the Jumbotron.

Within days the GoFundMe’s goal of $10,000 to cover the suite and transportation was met with donations from friends, family, classmates and strangers – locally and as far as the United States and Australia. The goal was then upped, with a pledge to send donations in excess of what was required to the Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation and Hospice Prince Edward. In eight days, more than 300 people have donated almost $30,000. A donation of the funds is to be held early February at Karlo Estates.

The family was ready to make its way to Toronto despite a bitterly cold and snowy day.

Wanting to avoid seeing the clan drive a convoy of cars in a snowstorm, Wayne Cronk, of Cronkie’s Cab Company, picked up the family with a wine tour bus to deliver them to the train station in Belleville, to make their connection to Union Station.

“He just accepted hugs as a payment,” said Mark. “Unbelievable.”

Mark pleased to be photographed with Brendan Shanahan, left, president and governor of the Leafs, and head coach Mike Babcock.

And because the family was unable to get a train connection at the end of the game, their journey home late Sunday night came in the form of the Wellington Dukes bus that delivered them all home safely in the early hours of the morning.

“It sounds so decadent,” Heather recalled earlier this week. “It was really amazing, and a great memory for us.”

And the small fact that Toronto lost (again), to Arizona, didn’t matter. The game, and its outcome were not important.

Four generations of family were in attendance at the game: Mark and Heather, their children – daughter Billi and family from Bloomfield, and son Scott and family from Calgary, plus Mark’s parents. Their mission was clear with signs made by the grandchildren to ‘Cheer for Grampy’ and ‘Cheer with Grampy’ all together.

At two-and-a-half years, and eight months, Mark’s two youngest grandchildren Emerson and Lucia may have been a little young to appreciate the evening, but at five- and seven-years-old respectively, the two eldest, Luke and Will, were in their element.

There was a flashback to being age seven at a Toronto Maple Leafs game.

Mark poses for a photo with his current favourite leaf Mitch Marner.

Heather was sitting with Will in the front row of the suite when she heard him say to his mom “I’m never going to forget this; I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”

Heather noted five-year-old Luke, a life-long Leafs fan, was just as excited and had trouble getting to sleep the night before when he said, “I might just get to see my hero [of the Toronto Maple Leafs]’.”

“It was nice to watch the game through eyes of my grandchildren,” said Mark. “Then the tentacles spread to my old room mate who showed up with his wife and surprised me,” said Mark. “Friends from London showed up and a recent class mate from optician school too.

“It was a really good evening as they had arranged for some of my childhood friends to come, and retired players came into our suite, including Darryl Sittler, Curtis Joseph, Wendel Clark and Ric Nattress.”

Nattress played junior hockey in Brantford where Campbell’s parents were from. “There is always a connection,” Mark explained. “When I was a teenager, well pre-teen, Nattress would go to summer hockey school and Darryl Sittler was there. Summer hockey school was like family. He’d be there with his wife and kids and there was a beach and tennis courts. We hung out as campers with his family.”

The camp was on Lake Couchiching in Orillia and belonged Bobby Orr.

“He’d have hockey players come and join in with their families. It was this massive cottage that we just played hockey at and water-skied, played tennis with hockey players.”

Mark with seven-year-old grandson Will and Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock

So a reunion of sorts came to pass last Sunday while Mark and family were mingling in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room.

They met Brendan Shanahan, president and governor for the Leafs as well as head coach Mike Babcock.

Mark explained some of the excitement to his Facebook friends.

“Then Brendan Shanahan walks in from the entrance of the room to this party. ‘Mark! How do you know Steve Yzerman?’

“I greet Brendan, thank him and say, “I’m a fan of hockey Brendan, but I don’t know Steve Yzerman personally. I then share with Brendan the background as to how the connection happened. It is a story where Steve Yzerman reaches out to his former Detroit Red Wing friend Brendan Shanahan allowing my family to have this moment and now I’m chatting as new friends with Shanny!”

He told Shanahan about his first trip to the Gardens at age seven on Jan. 27, 1968 – a new season after the Leafs won the cup in the spring of 1967 over the Montreal Canadiens.

“My parents get us (Mark and nine-year-old brother Ron) there early. My mom BJ Campbell is a hockey fan and a Bobby Hull hockey fan,” Mark explains. “Bobby Hull spots us – a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old gazing up to Bobby’s entourage from the entrance and main lobby of Maple Leaf Gardens. Bobby was joined with cigar smoking pre-game cronies. Bobby spent all of his time with my brother and abandoned his cronies! It seemed that way to me.”

Mark and Brendan spoke of their mutual connections to Bobby Orr, who had a home in the County, summer hockey camp memories, and friends they both know from those younger years in the 1970s.

Mark’s main wish-come-true was complete – but it also comes with deep appreciation to those who donated to make it happen and raise funds for the hospital and hospice; and others, who were not at the game.

Initially, Mark and Heather were reluctant to accept donations, as they intended to pay for the trip themselves, but they were convinced to graciously accept the expenses provided by the community to help make Sunday happen, and to raise funds for the hospital and hospice.

“It’s been a real life story about how our community looks after each other. It’s incredible,” said Heather.

Mark spent about six nights over Christmas in Picton hospital over a couple of visits. During that time, he experienced first-hand how the hospital functions.

“It was compassionate care and there was continuity and the nurses were fabulous, just fabulous. You could see them working together and it was incredible,” he said.

“When we got the news that it was stage four, Mark was still in the hospital and the doctor told us he was supposed to stay on in the hospital, but then there was an encouragement for us to come home,” said Heather.

The Campbell’s small home couldn’t accommodate their children and grandchildren along with visiting friends and family, so they looked into securing a new temporary home.

Christine and Kyle Denouden of Hickory Homes came through with a recently-renovated house in Bloomfield.

“They’ve opened their doors to us and it sleeps 16 which really works for us,” Heather said. “Every one of our needs is being tended to in a way that is very inspiring and we are grateful, and we are living here through a very generous heart of the Denouden family.”

Raising funds for the hospital and hospice were easy choices for Mark.

“I experienced the hospital, never really experienced it before, and I just know about hospice because of being there as we had a family member live her final days there,” he said. “It was rich for us to hang out there and build puzzles and hang out and laugh.”

Heather, an RN and Palliative Care Co-ordinator with the Prince Edward Family Health Team, knows all to well what the two causes bring to families in need.

“You need to be a family at the end of life,” she said. “You need to not be the worker bee, to not be the caregiver. We are very cognizant of that.”

Mark adds, “Because of the family support I have, Heather is my wife, not my nurse. I don’t want to drain her out, but that’s where hospice comes in because families get tired.”

Mark, in his announcement of his diagnosis on social media, said he would be in great care with Heather and his family by his side and asked his friends to feel free to also be by his side.

“We can always think about all the beauty in our lives; the lives we all have. I still am a good audience for laughs. In other moments we can pray, a cheerful peaceful prayer. It’s also ok to feel sad and be comforted through connection and prayer.

“I may have weakness inside of me, but I am strong. I am ready and prepared for a journey that I know I won’t be alone on, as I have many loves who will travel this unexpected journey alongside me and we will continue to hold each other close. I like hugs, many gentle hugs.”

Gentle hugs are key, notes Heather, explaining how the cancer is in Mark’s right lung and he had fluid in his lung “so when people hugged him, it was uncomfortable and Mark would say ‘I love gentle hugs’.

“Last weekend, friends came for a weekend visit with their five-year-old son from the Sarnia area. Three days later after they left, we received a package and it was full of tee shirts for all of us with the slogan ‘I love gentle hugs’. It was just such an intuitive gift,” she said.

The gentle hugs, words of encouragement, and shared laughs continue in person and on social media as Mark and the family find their way on a new path.

“When we were told that there was an increased chance it was cancer, and to prepare our hearts for that, and then finding out it was definitely cancer, Mark spent probably 30 seconds in a place of ‘why is this happening?’” said Heather. “I remember the conversation so vividly and he said, ‘If God has allowed this to happen to me, there will need to be goodness to come out of it.’ Mark has a deep Christian faith. His peace and calm is unmatched and that peace and calm is sustaining me.”

“I feel better now than I did on Dec. 20 when I thought I had pneumonia. When I thought it was pneumonia, I was man-cold frustrated, I just wanted to be better,” he said. “I’m strong in my belief that the life we have here is not the eternal life that we have later, so I’m comfortable with that.”

“Even though we are still waiting on some biopsy reports, we know that it’s non small cell carcinoma of the lung,” said Heather. “And we know that it has spread to bone and the liver, which makes it a stage four cancer. That’s what we know, but they have done some tests to rule out things, and another to see if he will respond to immunotherapy.”

Wednesday at Kingston General Hospital, the family learned a bone scan revealed extensive involvement.

“I have been offered radiation for the lesion on my brain and also my lung. I am and we all are interested in pursuing the options for radiation,” Mark updated friends on his Facebook page.

“My family feels I am stalwart, with peacefulness and calmness. Be assured I have no anxiety, I have no fears as I feel comfortable openly sharing all of this. I am looking forward to sharing time and joy with our family and friends and they with me. Please stay connected. I need you. Each person gives me a joy and peace even for a brief gentle hug.”

Donations to the GoFundMe campaign to raise further funds for the PEC Memorial Hospital Foundation and Hospice Prince Edward are welcome up until Feb. 2. Click to visit the GoFundMe page: gofundme.com/cheer-for-grampy .

Cheer for Grampy signs were made by the grandchildren.

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  1. Patsi D says:

    Dear Mark………you made me smile so often it was always a pleasure to see you and Billie………….thanks so much for all of your hugs and know that both John and I are thinking of you and are sending you all our love and prayers. I’m definitely wearing my red glasses again……….you sensed my need to be loud and crazy and I will love you forever;;;;;;Patsi

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