Cameron Siemers is a young man who was told he would die as a child — He is afflicted with both Hemophilia and AIDS. He survived, spending much of his childhood in hospitals. He managed to survive into his twenties, and in 2006 he completed the Landmark Forum. Out of taking Landmark Education programs, he saw a new purpose for his life: To assist others who have also survived childhood diseases. He has now founded the Cameron Siemers Foundation for Hope. The first $5,000 grant is going to Rachel Lozano, who has survived a tumor on her spinal cord. On September 20, David Arquette and Courtney Cox Arquette are hosting a major fundraiser for the Foundation. The story was covered by the OC Register of Orange County, California.
The boy who lived? He’s got his own foundation.
by Jaimee Lynn Fletcher
He remembers the moment a time stamp was put on his life.He’s 7, sitting upright in a hospital bed, stark walls and dreary surroundings intensifying the somber look on the doctor’s face.
Then comes the news: three years to live.
Cameron Siemers understands what he’s being told. And he isn’t scared.
He hugs his mother.
“It’s OK,” he says. “I’ll beat it.”
She hugs him back and wonders if he will keep his word.
Siemers was born a hemophiliac, a disease that keeps the blood from clotting and is often treated with a series of blood transfusions.
He went in for the procedure when he was two years old. And, soon after, he was chronically ill, in and out of the hospital with a series of increasingly dire infections. He was admitted for pneumonia at age 7 and test results brought a shocking diagnosis.
Siemers was infected with HIV. The blood he’d received, five years earlier, had not been tested.
“I remember everything vividly.”
He became a hospital regular and day-to-day life posed a challenge.
But even though doctors thought Siemers would run out of options for medication, that his body – if he lived long enough – would become resistant, the boy who was given three years to live… lived. His 10th birthday passed. Then his 16th and his 21st.
As he aged from child to adult, Siemers was in uncharted territory with no map to guide the way. He enrolled in Long Beach State University, but missed a lot of class because he was in and out of the hospital. He accepted the F’s and incompletes without withdrawing out of school just to remain insured.And, when he could, Siemers spent entire days, sometimes weeks, with a controller in hand. He succumbed to a fantasy world to escape the reality that was never supposed to exist.
“Playing video games,” he says, “passed the time when I was sick.”
But two years ago, he decided, passing the time seemed an unfulfilling way to spend his days.
LESSONS IN MEANING
In 2006, Siemers enrolled in Landmark Education, a four day motivational seminar that teaches self-expression and leadership.
Siemers says the intense camp encourages participants to find meaning in their lives.
On the seminar’s last day the participants, emotionally drained but, Siemers says, profoundly inspired, sat and listened to the closing ceremonies. A face Siemers knew well appeared at the podium, telling a story he knew too.
“My mom talked about me in front of the audience. And it was then that I knew that I wanted to do…”
Before the workshop, Siemers had spoken occasionally at colleges and other events. But, he says now, as his mother spoke, he realized it wasn’t enough. He was gripped with an idea.
He took the podium and declared his new mission to the group. “If you don’t know who I am, you will because I’m going to start a foundation.”
He left the stage and, one by one, audience members handed him business cards and checks to help get his foundation started.
The couch-oriented lifestyle that Siemers had come to know was dead.
MORE THAN SURVIVING
Young adults battling life-threatening diseases are a group that Siemers feels is under-represented in the nonprofit world.
“A lot of organizations exist to help children with these diseases. But what happens when they turn 18, and live longer than they were supposed to?
“If there is something out there, it isn’t good enough.”
He came up with an idea he calls “life grants” – money for young adults to start working on a project, whether it be going to college, starting a business or holding a community fundraiser. He wants to help people find a life purpose.
He teamed up with life-long family friend, Debbie Swatzell, and three others from Landmark Education to start the nonprofit, The Cameron Siemers Foundation for Hope.
In his quest to lay the groundwork, Siemers has found the direction he hopes others will find.
He’s enrolled in Cypress College where, he says, he is succeeding in classes. And he has a full-time job running his own foundation.
“It’s a big commitment, but it’s going to make a big difference.”
The foundation’s board will seek support for the cause at a fundraiser, Sept. 20, at the Anaheim Hotel Menage.
“It’s a challenge to get the word out about what we’re doing,” says board member Yvonne Altamirano. “This event is really where we want to get it going.”
The board expects about 500 people to come to their inaugural fundraiser, hosted by actor David Arquette and wife Courtney Cox Arquette.
Siemers will hand out the first $5,000 life grant to Rachel Lozano of Missouri, a three-time survivor of Askin’s tumor of the spinal cord. The foundation is looking to give out grants quarterly to young adults ages 18 through 28.
Proud of the life he is leading, Siemers recalls that day in the hospital when he was told death was near. The optimism he reassured his mother with, 19 years ago, lingers.
“Apparently, I kept my word.”