Rachel Kingstone says she’s just an “average kid”, but there is not much that is average about Rachel. She’s a talented musician who plays piano, cello and sings, a strait A student at the demanding Claude Watson School for the Arts, a volunteer for environmental concerns and avid fundraiser who’s raised thousands of dollars for cancer, and an author. But that’s not all. From birth, Rachel hears only with one ear. And she lost an eye when she was five years old to Choroidal Melanoma – a type of life-threatening cancer.
“I’m not sure why I’m an inspiration,” Rachel says, “I feel just like a normal kid. It’s the other kids I meet at the Hospital for Sick Children or Camp Oochigeas (a camp for children with cancer) who impress me. One girl, in particular, had lost a leg to cancer and she was always so positive.”
Now 12 years old, Rachel has added photography to her list of favourite activities. “I don’t have good depth perception,” she says, “but the photos turn out well. I love nature so I take wide landscapes mostly”.
Rachel is also working on her grade 9 piano, and comments that it was after she lost her sight in her one eye that she took up music. “I’m told I have a good ear,” she says.
When asked if she has a guide dog, she replies, “Benji is small, fluffy, and if anything, kind of a nice nuisance!” Her beloved dog was a gift from a breeder who was moved by Rachel’s story and drove three hours to deliver the puppy, and insisted on no payment.
It’s hard to imagine how a child can go through such challenges and remain so positive. Rachel attributes the many people who have helped her along the way, including the Make a Wish Foundation. Rachel’s parents contacted the foundation when she was first diagnosed. A year later, the wish came true.
“What they did for me really made a difference,” she says, “Because they made me feel very special and very lucky.” Rachel’s wish was a butterfly garden, because she is such a nature lover. Unsure how the dream would come about, one day in 2008, Rachel came home to find 100 volunteers in her back yard, the city’s top landscapers and garden suppliers, ready to transform the garden in 5 days.
“They arrived like a flock of doves,” says Rachel’s mother, Dana, who remembered how the wonderful gift helped the family cope with what was happening with their daughter, “it was the beginning of us finally believing that we were going to be okay.”
Another of Rachel’s Make-a-Wish, as she wrote:
My application to create the world’s largest human star for a Guinness World Record is another way that my family, Make-A-Wish and I can reach out to other children and share the hope, strength and joy that is experienced with a wish – like my butterfly garden. On Guinness World Record Day (November 17, 2011) teens, kids and parents showed up to help Rachel break the record for the largest human star.
This summer, Rachel once again, attended Camp Oochigeas, a camp for which she raised $2,600 in funds by posting music videos on Youtube of herself performing “Imagination”.
She also recently published “The Sunset Journey”, an ebook available at amazon.ca. Rachel will be donating a portion of the proceeds to an animal charity.
On top of her busy life, Rachel has to go to both Sick Kids and Princess Margaret Hospitals about ten times during the year for follow ups and tests, as well as regular work on her prosthetic eye as she grows.
“We are extremely fortunate to live in Toronto, where we have access to best-in-class pediatric and cancer care,” says Dana. “The doctors are like rock-stars in our eyes. They are that good. And the MRI nurses melt our hearts with their kindness and patience.”
For Rachel, it’s all just part of her “ordinary” life. For everyone else, like her mother, she’s simply awe-inspiring.
“All the good that was directed at Rachel when she had her cancer has turned her into someone who wants to do good in the world,” says Dana. “If she is an inspiration, then it all started with the people who rallied around Rachel and our family to get us through the worst time in our lives. They inspired Rachel and I’m so glad that she is strong and healthy now so that she can do tons more good in her long life ahead.”