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Have Faith, will climb: Firefighters keep little girl in mind on stairs


Fresh from Idaho, the Canfield family plunged into a medical crisis

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Michael Kinkade, chief of the Forest Grove and Cornelius fire departments, accepts a Thank you picture from Faith Canfield after pinning an honorary firefighter badge on her.Rachel and Aaron Canfield thought doctors might question them about child abuse because of the bruises covering their six-year-old daughter’s body.

Worried, the Forest Grove parents held off a few more days before bringing Faith to the doctor when her fever wouldn’t go away.

Unwittingly, they were enjoying a few final days of the illusion that they had everything under control.

Then came the leukemia verdict, followed by terror, pain, courage and, eventually, a special connection to the Forest Grove and Cornelius fire departments.

Firefighters from both cities gathered last Thursday to watch Chief Michael Kinkade kneel down and give Faith an “honorary firefighter” badge. The ceremony doubled as a sendoff for the 26 firefighters — 16 from Cornelius, 10 from Forest Grove — traveling to Seattle for the annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb last Sunday to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“It’s a wonderful thing your name is Faith because you’ve inspired a lot of people,” Kinkade said before pinning on the badge. “The guys behind me going to climb stairs, the people trying to find a cure for cancer.”

After a year of helplessness and shock, Faith’s parents probably deserved some sort of badge too. Even her brother, Will, did his part. Leukemia turned out to be a family affair.

The bruises had appeared slowly. Only a couple at first. “Then we started noticing them on her back and unusual spots,” Rachel said. “For a while we thought she was roughhousing too much with her brother.” Then came the fever.

By the time Aaron brought Faith to the hospital — Rachel stayed home with Will, now 9, and Anna, now 2 — the worried parents were figuring their six-year-old might be anemic.

“We had not a clue,” Rachel said.

The clue appeared after the blood test, when the doctor came to give Aaron the results and he could see she was crying.

“I just thought it was a death sentence,” said Aaron, who knew nothing about the recent breakthroughs in leukemia treatment.

Faith, who was with him, couldn’t understand what was wrong. “She asked, ‘Why are you crying, Daddy?’ I just told her that she was sick and it makes Daddy sad when his kids are sick,” Aaron said.

He called Rachel.

“My whole body went numb and I couldn’t stop pacing,” Rachel remembers. “Our world turned upside down that day.”

A grueling program of chemotherapy pills quickly began.

Will tried to help, Rachel said. “He’s our peacemaker, so he was trying to be positive and uplifting to Faith.” When it was time to take a “pink pill,” Will would tell his sister, “You can do this. Just think — you don’t have to take one tomorrow.”

The pills made Faith bloated and constipated and bald.

Normally a happy, playful “social butterfly,” Rachel said, Faith at one point lay on the couch for two weeks completely solemn and “out of touch. She just shut down.”

Then came the screams, when the pain in Faith’s legs was too great. “She’d scream, ‘I can’t walk!’” Rachel remembers.

    It wasn’t the same as crawling into searing-hot buildings or sucking in toxic smoke, but Faith needed to call on the same kind of endurance and courage to get through her fight with leukemia, as Kinkade implied at last week’s ceremony.

Volunteer firefighter Nick Chan knew of Faith’s ordeal because she was friends with his own daughter. Chan first brought Faith to the department’s attention.

“When I pin this badge on you,” Kinkade said Thursday, “all these men and women standing behind me — these are now all your brothers and sisters.”

“We’ll be thinking about you when we climb, Faith!” one of them called from the lineup of blue uniforms.

When they got home after the ceremony, Aaron said, Faith held her badge and told him, “I’m going to keep this polished and shiny. Do you have any polish, Dad?”

Three days later, 26 Forest Grove-Cornelius firefighters wore their own special accessories as they climbed 69 flights of stairs — 1,311 steps — from bottom to top of Seattle’s Columbia Center.

Faith’s photo adorned their helmets, along with a downsized replica of the special “Thank you” picture she had brought to the ceremony.

The combined departments brought in more than $20,000 to help “cure dates” blossom like the little magic-marker flowers Faith drew in the picture for her new, older — and Sunday, wearier — brothers and sisters.