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Remembering Cam

A SPECIAL LETTER FROM CAM’S MOM

Cam Lyster photos


If I introduced you to my son Cam, the first thing you’d notice would be his lopsided grin. He was nearly always grinning about something. You’d instantly feel like you could be his friend.

Beneath his jokester exterior lay an insightful and analytical mind. Cam loved to make people laugh, but he could just as easily pick up a serious debate. If he didn’t know something, he’d make sure to learn so he wouldn’t get caught again.

A DRIVE TO SERVE

In 2016, Cam was accepted to the Energy Sustainability Engineering Technologist program at Nova Scotia Community College in Middleton, Nova Scotia – a long way from our home in Camrose, Alberta. But Cam was confident and more than ready to be independent.

Within months of landing in Nova Scotia, he joined the Canadian Army Reserves at 36 Service Battalion in Aldershot. He absolutely loved everything about the army (except maybe the food!) and turned his plans around completely. After a year, he left college to focus on a full-time career in the Canadian Forces.

In the spring of 2016 Cam came home for a visit and let me know that he was having frequent diarrhea. I asked him about his stress levels, drinking too often, noticing blood in his stools, his diet, and the other usual things a person thinks could relate to diarrhea. He answered no to all of them, except that occasionally, there was blood. He was busy preparing for his training and promised that if it got worse, he’d go to the doctor.

By the end of August, he was seeing more bright red blood in the toilet bowl. He was able to find a doctor, get a referral to a gastroenterologist, and at the beginning of December, he was diagnosed with ulcerative pancolitis. He was given medication and an appointment for a follow-up.

A DRASTIC DECLINE

The medication Cam was prescribed lost its effect quickly, and he spiraled into a full-blown flare-up. By the time his next gastroenterologist appointment came around in January 2017, he had lost 30 pounds. His symptoms – weakness, fatigue, the need to be near a toilet – interfered with his work in the Reserves. His diarrhea was worst at night and he had a lot of night shifts. During the day, he was exhausted because he’d been up all night with the runs.

Throughout all this, he tried to carry on his work in the Reserves. But one day I picked up the phone and it was Cam. “The dream is dead,” he said. He made the decision to release from the Reserves and come back home to Alberta where he could be taken care of.

Cam’s brother, Greg, and I flew out to Nova Scotia to help him move. We were shocked by the person who greeted us at the door. Cam was white. There was no colour to his lips, his skin was almost translucent, and his hair was falling out. He was so breathless he could barely make it up a flight of five stairs. What a relief it was to finally get him in the door of our house. We were sure that this was the beginning of his recovery and felt confident that we could do it together. Mom could fix anything.

THE CALL

It was Sunday, March 19, 2017. Cam had an appointment at the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton scheduled for the next day. He was seriously considering having his colon removed and was going to mention it when he got in to see someone. We were behind him as a family if he chose to go that route; we would have done anything to get him feeling better.

Early that Sunday morning, I got a phone call from Cam. He was in the basement, but he couldn’t muster the strength to yell for help. I raced downstairs and found him on the couch, gasping for air, his chest rising and falling rapidly. He whispered that he was having a panic attack. I rubbed his chest and counted for him to try to slow his breaths. He couldn’t.

I called 911. I was on the phone with the operator and Cam jumped up, flailing his arms and legs, and screaming. The operator told me to unlock the front door because the ambulance was almost there. I ran upstairs, unlocked the door, and then raced back to the basement. Cam was curled up on the couch and I heard him expel his last breath. A perforated bowel took his life.

NO WORDS, NO FIX

Our world shattered when Cam died. There is no fix for losing a child. There are words for someone who has lost a spouse – widow or widower. Children who lose parents are orphans. There are no words to describe losing your child. We wake up every morning to a day without Cam.

I couldn’t save him so instead I owe it to my son to bring awareness to the disease that claimed him. That is my mission.

Never, at any time in Cam’s short journey with ulcerative colitis, was he made aware that it could be fatal. I want to change that. I want people to be aware of the seriousness of this illness. It is not “just” colitis.

Be vigilant, follow doctor’s orders, and go to the hospital if symptoms worsen. Advocate for yourself and make sure your healthcare team listens. Specialists can be hard to find, so make sure your family doctor knows what’s going on if you must see him or her instead of the gastroenterologist. Be knowledgeable and keep up with the latest developments in research. And, most of all, talk to people about your disease because with understanding comes acceptance.

Cam was an incredibly selfless man who was always mindful of others. He advocated for organ donation (and was himself a tissue and cornea donor), he was a proud blood donor and chose to serve in the military to be able to give back. All of Cam’s family and friends are proud that his story can be used to educate others and Cam would be 110% behind sharing his experience to help others, as it is only natural and fitting that he is still assisting others.

Please donate today to help advance research, care, and support services so that people living with inflammatory bowel disease can live well and reach their full potential. 

Shirley Lyster Signature

Shirley Lyster
Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Advocate and Supporter


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  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 140 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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