Students & Community Help Kids with Cancer

When it came time to say that his son had cancer, teacher Kevin Bustrum couldn’t quite get the words out. He had to choke down his tears first.

Then he told an auditorium full of Northview High School students that his 5-year-old boy, Brady, was diagnosed in January with a mass in his brain. That explained why Brady had sat in his kindergarten classroom for about 30 minutes, staring into space without moving or saying a word.

After Bustrum told the hushed audience about his family’s ordeal, he urged students to support the school’s annual Blackout Pediatric Cancer fundraiser to help Brady and other children with cancer. After supporting the cause himself since its inception, “never in a million years” did he expect his family would be needing students’ help, Bustrum said.

“I want you to understand how lucky you are to be in school every day, and healthy,” said Bustrum, a physical education and history teacher at Crossroads Middle School. “I pray none of you have to know the pain of having a son or a daughter with cancer.”

He told the students how proud he was of their efforts to raise funds for a program at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital that benefits young patients like Brady.

“You guys think outside yourselves,” Bustrum said. “The Northview community always has and always will. Your support goes a long way.”Brady Bustrum at the beginning of kindergarten last year, before he was diagnosed with a brain tumor

Raising Funds and Awareness

Blackout Pediatric Cancer aims to generate not just financial support but increase student awareness of the disease. Students sell black T-shirts to raise money for a volunteer program that provides gift bags, food and gas cards and personalized hospital room decorations for young cancer patients and their families. This year’s campaign culminated with the Sept. 12 Northview Wildcats football game against Coopersville, where Brady was spotlighted on the field as an honorary “captain.”

“For us it’s community, seeing everybody coming together wearing a black shirt, seeing kids being thankful,” said Brenda Dykema, a parent and lead organizer of the sixth annual event.

Dykema is a volunteer with the pediatric oncology resource team (PORT), a nonprofit program that helps young cancer patients at DeVos Children’s Hospital. She hatched the idea in 2009 after two friends’ sons died of cancer. As she watched her son play football one night, she thought of all the children at the hospital who couldn’t.

“I just felt like, ‘These kids (at the game) have to realize what a good life they have,’” said Dykema, whose four children went to Northview schools.

With former coach Rob Zeitman’s support, she started Blackout Pediatric Cancer in conjunction with the PORT program. Along with providing new patients with toiletries and books, volunteers custom decorate their rooms based on the children’s favorite colors and interests.

Dykema decided to call it the Dream Room Project after its first recipient, a 13-year-old girl, said, “It would be a dream if I came back and found the room decorated.”

Support Helps Family Face Ordeal

Many of the students selling T-shirts have been personally touched by cancer. Christian Skowronski’s grandmother passed away earlier this year. Harry Julien lost a close family friend four months ago.

“It’s brought to light how fortunate we are to be here,” said senior Meredith VanEssen. Added junior Maxwell Purwin, “It’s an amazing cause. We can get the entire community together to do this.”

The community has helped Kevin Bustrum and his wife deal with reality since Brady’s diagnosis early this year. They cried for weeks afterward and Kevin struggled thinking about it as he drove to school. He has to hold Brady down while he receives painful “pokeys” of chemotherapy delivered through a port in his chest, and comfort him after he vomits.

“My family and I have to live 24 hours at a time,” Bustrum told the recent assembly. “We rely on our faith, our family, our friends and the Northview community.”

Brady’s tumor has not grown or shrunk in the past seven months and doctors are uncertain of his prognosis, Bustrum said. For now, Brady is repeating kindergarten, a happy kid who loves to tell jokes. His dad is grateful for each day and for all the help from teachers, students and parents.

“The support is awesome,” he said. “It just helps me focus on what I need to focus on.”  

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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