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Cancer Survivor Joins Fight Against Childhood Cancer

OSWEGO, NY – Eric Gates has advanced final stage bone cancer (multiple myeloma). He is also fighting a few other nagging ailments.

And, yes, he complains, a lot. But, it’s not about what’s wrong with him – it’s about the injustice of childhood cancer.

Eric Gates, right, poses with his two grandsons (Kaiden and Matt) and his son, Adam, left, at last year's St. Baldrick's event.
Eric Gates, right, poses with his two grandsons (Kaiden and Matt) and his son, Adam, left, at last year’s St. Baldrick’s event.

“No child should have to go through that. No family should have to go through that kind of pain,” he said.

He and his family, over the years, have been involved with the Walk America to fight birth defects as well as different cancer agencies, he pointed out.

“Everybody in my family, it seems, died of cancer. My mother did, my father and a cousin at 39. So, I’ve been involved in a lot of cancer stuff. Then, in 2011, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. I got to see the kids upstairs in the children’s hospital and I said, ‘No kid should have to go through this stuff!'”

“I have been involved for many years with support for many causes. I have been involved
with kids for all sorts of activities since I was a teenager. Then with Special Olympics kids
in my 20s,” he said. “As my son and daughter came along I got involved with many school
activities (coach for sports teams, band, library, etc. fundraisers.”

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a volunteer-driven charity dedicated to raising money for childhood cancer research, will host one of its signature head-shaving events at the Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center, 26 E. First St., starting at 6 p.m. on March 27.

His team, rgrampa’s kids, will be taking part.

A few years ago, before he was diagnosed, he was taking his grandson for haircuts.

“From the time he’d been born, he’d never been with anyone else for a haircut but me,” Gates said. “I said, ‘Mom, we are going for our haircut.’ And she said, ‘OK.’ We get in the car and I drove out to the college (for the St. Baldrick’s fundraiser).”

The girls from Joe’s Barber Shop, who normally cut his hair, were volunteering there.

“They did him first and everybody’s cheering and clapping. He turned to me and looks like ‘grampa, what is going on?’ He doesn’t know what to make of it.”

So, he explained to him that by shaving his head, he was helping some little kid fight cancer. And the youngster agreed that that was a good thing.

“But then, they start shaving my head, he’s sitting on my lap watching. They’ve got me about half gone. He looks up, takes his hand and smoothes it over my head. ‘Grampa, I do not want my head to look like that,’ he told me,” Gates said.

The girl that was shaving his head stopped and said, “Uh-oh,” he recalls.

Afterwards, his grandson received a special St. Baldrick’s shirt, which he thought was pretty cool, his grandfather said.

The barber usually gave the youngster a lollipop after his haircut. This time, she leaned over and told him, “This one is so special; grampa is going to take you for ice cream tonight.”

“So we stop at Friendly’s and we got our ice cream. He doesn’t say anything (about his haircut) and I didn’t say anything. I just kind of let it go. He kept looking at my head, and looking at it,” Gates said.

They got done and headed home.

Walking into the house, the youngster pulls up the hood on his jacket and pulled it snuggly over his head.

“We walk in and I help him off with his boots. While I’m doing that, he peels my hat off and, of course, mom is standing right there. ‘Grampa, what did you do to your hair?’ she exclaimed,” Gates said.

Meanwhile, her son had walked around behind her and taken off his coat.

“He taps her on the shoulder and she turns around and goes, ‘Grampa!!’ He got the biggest kick out of then; he thought that was so funny,” Gates said. “And then, he goes to school and there’s a couple others there that had their heads shaved as well so they kind of had their own special little club.”

After his father and mother and other family members died with cancer, he volunteered in events for breast cancer and lung cancer research, Gates said.

“I finally found St. Baldrick’s searching to conquer cancer in kids. How could I not jump on this one!? No kid should have to go through this cancer crap,” he said.

Gates said he doesn’t really see his own cancer as a “battle.”

“It’s just another bump in the road, another challenge,” he said.

He had gone to see the doctor about something else when his cancer was discovered.

They told his to make his arrangement, “because you probably won’t make it through the week,” he remembers them telling him.

“Either you change your mind, or we change doctors,” he replied, adding he retired in April and plans on collecting some of that money.

So, the doctors came up with a plan. And now, Gates doing what he can to help fight childhood cancer.

“They say that just so many people out of a certain number are going to get cancer. So, I’m glad I have cancer; that means someone else didn’t,” Gates said. “My doctors said it doesn’t really work that way. But, that’s my philosophy.”

In 2010, he included his grandson, Matt, in the St. Baldrick’s event.

“Unfortunately in 2011 I was preoccupied with another ‘bump in the road.’ But, we returned last year with my son, Adam, his son, Kaiden, and of course Matt. Matt’s dad helped get the Oswego Fire Department to compete with the Sheriff’s Department in raising teams and money. It made me feel good that they were inspired to help. They can raise a whole lot more than I can and they can continue on after I won’t be able to (bone cancer sucks),” Gates said. “But more importantly they will continue support for the search for a cure to conquer kids cancer.”

For more information, contact Dan Witmer, St. Baldrick’s volunteer event organizer, at [email protected]