The Matter family at the Columbia Tower during a Big Climb Photo credit: The Matter Family
Suzy Matter’s son was 9 years old when he was diagnosed with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“I sat there in the middle of a hospital thinking, ‘OK. Pretty sure I can’t do this by myself,’” she says. “I mean, me and Colton against the world? No.’”
Colton’s Army has since expanded from a Facebook group of family and close friends to a network of more than 1,600. “Over the years, we’ve called on them for many reasons,” says Matter of Colton’s Army. Mostly, she’s asked for prayers and support but every year, she puts out a call for the Big Climb, a team race up 69 floors of the Columbia Tower that raised $2.74 million last year for blood cancer research and patient services through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).
To date, Colton’s Army has raised more than $560,000 for LLS. “And we aren’t done yet,” Matter writes on the website for Colton’s Army.
For this year’s Big Climb — scheduled for Sunday, March 26 — Colton’s Army is currently 205 team members strong with $63,000 raised. “Our goal is to beat last year’s fundraising goal of $155,000,” says Matter. “So far, we’re on track.”
While the Big Climb has already sold out for participants, Matter encourages people to volunteer and donate. “If everybody does what they call ‘small things,’ it all adds up to be something big,” she says. It’s not, she says, about how many stairs you climb or how much money you raise. Even the $5 a child may raise going door-to-door matters.
“That $5 makes a huge difference because [that child] is sharing why he’s doing something,” she says. “He’s telling people that cancer affects us all and I’m doing something about it.”
Someone in this position is not going to call anybody. It’s all they can do to breathe, to get up, to do what they need to do everyday.
Action, she says, is what makes a difference. “People would always say, ‘Call me if you need anything,’” she recalls of the early days of Colton’s diagnosis. “But someone in this position is not going to call anybody. It’s all they can do to breathe, to get up, to do what they need to do everyday.”
Instead, to help a family facing cancer, “do what you think you would want,” says Matter. Perhaps that’s sending a gift card to a restaurant or to a gas station — ”there are a lot of unplanned trips to the hospital” — or pitching in with the minutia of living.
Matter recalls a friend who would text her every time she’d visit Costco; what groceries did Matter need picked up? “By the time I got home, [the groceries] would be on my front porch,” Matter says. “I wouldn’t even have to talk to her if I didn’t want.” That was a gift, she says, on the days when even picking up the phone was too much.
Colton’s Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild
Colton Matter received nearly all of his cancer treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where he started a Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild. The hospital’s Guild Association is the “largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the nation,” and helps connect patients and families to specific fundraising efforts.
“We’re all busy whether we’re fighting cancer or just living our regular lives,” she says. “It’s about making something happen.”
Kids can help, too. If they know a child with cancer, make that friend still feel seen. “It’s hard enough to be a kid, right?” says Matter. Add baldness, missed school and the other trappings of battling cancer. “What kids can do for their friend is still invite them to do stuff,” says Matter. “Try and embrace your friend. Include them.”
Now 16 and a junior at Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Colton is in remission after five relapses in seven years. He remains on active chemotherapy.
“We still do this Big Climb because there is not a cure. Remission is not a cure,” Matter says. “Anyone who knows cancer, understands that. Unfortunately, people who don’t think ‘Well, he’s good.’ He’s good today and we hope he’s good forever but we fight for Colton.”
And, she says, Colton’s Army fights for the many friends lost along the way. “We fight for aunts and uncles and grandpas and kids. We climb for all of them. We have lots of inspiration.”