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SLU and community raise money for Canton boy battling cancer for third time

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CANTON — An Xbox 360 and several games for it are all Zachary W. Hamilton, a seventh-grader at J.M. McKenney Middle School, wants for Christmas this year — that, and for his recent round of chemotherapy to be successful.

Hospital rooms, doctors, nurses, chemotherapy and long drives for treatment have become routine for the Hamilton family.

Zach was diagnosed with neuroblastoma — a cancer most often found in young children — when he was 8 years old. He thought he beat it after chemotherapy that year, but the cancer came back in 2011. After more treatments in Syracuse and New York City, he thought he beat it again.

Two weeks ago, at age 12, he learned he would be facing his third battle with the disease.

“It’s a nightmare,” said his mother, Rebecca L. “It’s very discouraging for him. He never complains, though. He just kind of rolls his eyes and says, ‘OK’ and just does what he has to do.”

His friends and family call him “Zach the fighter.” And the community wants to join in his fight.

Jamie L. Reed and Christine L. St. Andrews, Canton, friends of the Hamiltons, have organized gift-wrapping benefits to raise money for the family’s medical and travel expenses. One was scheduled for Wednesday night. The other wrap-a-thon will be from 1:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Knights of Columbus, 30 Miner St., where people can drop off gifts to be wrapped and any donation they’d like to give.

“We had bottle drives and Halloween-themed events last year,” Ms. St. Andrews said. “Anything the community can do to help this family will be appreciated.

Ms. Reed said the girls and boys varsity basketball teams volunteered to help wrap and carry gifts during the fundraisers.

“This family just has such faith,” Ms. Reed said. “They weren’t expecting this and it’s Christmas. When you’re fighting like that, it’s important to know there are people behind you supporting you.”

St. Lawrence University’s Center for Civic Engagement also is pitching in to help the Hamilton family. The center had selected Zach to be the beneficiary of its annual “Kick It for a Cause” event in April, not knowing his cancer had returned a third time.

When the Hamiltons told the center the cancer was back, it began an additional fundraiser called “Miles for Zachary” with a $5,000 goal, according to Ryan P. Deuel, director of media relations at SLU. The center has raised $2,331 and has 16 more days to reach the goal.

The “Kick It for a Cause” will be from noon to 4 p.m. on April 13 and will feature a Zumbathon, as well as student activity booths and a silent auction.

Mrs. Hamilton and her husband, William G., have two other children, 17-year-old Paige E., a senior at Canton Central, and 6-year-old Joshua D. The expenses of Zach’s fight have taken a toll on the whole family, Mrs. Hamilton said. “Being on just the one income is difficult,” she said. “Someone has to be home for him.”

Mrs. Hamilton used to do home care work for the elderly in Canton, but stopped to be home for Zach now that he’s going through chemo again.

Mr. Hamilton works for the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services and his health insurance plan contributes to the hospital bills. Medicaid helps with covering medication costs, and Zach’s grandparents help out with finances as well.

Mrs. Hamilton said the Jules of Life Foundation, which provides financial support to St. Lawrence County families dealing with childhood cancer, helped with Zach’s first fight with the disease. Compass to Care Childhood Cancer Foundation, based in Chicago, also contributed to the Hamiltons’ gas and food expenses.

Mrs. Hamilton said the fact that his third diagnosis came during another holiday season made the news even more difficult. But the outpouring of emotional and financial support from the community has helped the family cope with its struggles, she said.

“We’re so thankful for the support and the people praying for him,” she said.

A Facebook page called “Zach the Fighter” has been especially encouraging to the family.

“At the end of the day, you’re discouraged and you’re angry and it just helps me to see all those posts from people,” Mrs. Hamilton said.

Community member Cindy Murdie posted on the page, telling Zach he was in her thoughts and prayers. “It’s like a bad roller coaster ride that you are on. You will have a lot of ups and downs, hang in there and take one day at a time. You, Zack, and your whole family are in a lot of people’s prayers. We live in a great community, don’t we?” she wrote.

Arlene Monell of Canton posted to say that Zach is “on our prayer list at St. John’s Church, Ogdensburg, and has been on the list for a long time.”

“Zach the Fighter” has lived up to his name, his mother said, in the way he treats others with similar fights who have shared his hospital rooms.

Mrs. Hamilton said she remembered a time when Zach shared a hospital room with a 3-year-old girl who was about to have surgery. Zach asked his mother to go to the gift shop and pick out a present for the girl. Mrs. Hamilton said that when she brought back a stuffed unicorn, the 3-year-old loved it so much she insisted on bringing it with her to the surgery room.

Mrs. Hamilton said if the round of chemo he completed Sunday was successful, he will have one more round before making a trip to New York City for surgery.

“He’s such a sweet little boy,” Ms. Reed said two days before the first fundraiser. “He was more devastated about losing his hair again. No 12-year-old should have to worry about that.”

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