On Saturday, July 7, the Mint Hill community will come together to support and celebrate with the Gammon family at Aloha! Mint Hill.
Two and a half years ago, rising Queen’s Grant fourth grader Damon Gammon was diagnosed with Adrenocortical Carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. The disease is diagnosed in only about 200 people total in the United States per year, and the majority of those affected are adults over 40.
Because of the rareness of Damon’s disease, it took doctors some time to diagnose him and begin treatment. “I still remember the conversation where [Damon’s mom] felt like something was off, and she took him to the doctor, and they were like, ‘Oh, everything’s fine,’” says Jessica Wilde, one of five longtime family friends helping to organize the event.
Doctors eventually found a cancerous mass in Damon’s abdomen, and he went through surgery to remove both a kidney and an adrenal gland. After the surgery, Damon was miraculously declared cancer-free, but half a year later, doctors discovered more tumors. They embarked on what would be another half year of intense chemotherapy, the end result of which was two back-to-back major surgeries at St. Jude’s hospital in Tennessee to remove tumors from Damon’s lungs.
For almost two years, Damon has been treated with Mitotane, a rare and physically demanding chemotherapy drug that has inhibited the tumors’ growth. “It’s kind of a miracle,” says Wilde, noting that most people can only tolerate 7 to 9 months of Mitotane. “There’s been a lot of these little miracles. He wasn’t supposed to survive the first time.”
Early this spring, the Gammon family was devastated to find that the Mitotane was no longer constraining the tumors’ growth. Damon was approved for an immunotherapy trial of Keytruda, but after three months on the drug, scans showed it was having no effect. “At this point, the doctor said we’ve run out of options,” says Wilde. “Take him home and enjoy the time you’ve got left. So that’s where they’re at right now.”
Aloha! Mint Hill is part of an effort on the part of friends of the Gammons to help the family do just that. The event, which will take place at Queen’s Grant Community School on July 7, is being orchestrated by longtime friends of the Gammon family Jessica Wilde, Julie Burgess, Nellie Johnston, Emma Wilson and Rhonda Schofield. It promises to be a fun-filled night of family-friendly entertainment featuring food trucks, field games, face painting, balloon animals and live entertainment from authentic Polynesian dancers.
Preparations for the impressive event started only a couple of weeks ago. “It was going to be in my backyard,” says Wilde, who originally envisioned selling barbecue and having Schofield and her family perform a small Polynesian show. “Then it just got bigger, and bigger, and bigger.”
When Wilde started looking into renting Port-o-Potties for her backyard, she began to think about switching to a bigger venue. Julie Burgess, whose kids also go to Queen’s Grant, was able to secure the campus, and with more space, the group began to plan bigger.
One of the most anticipated aspects of the event is the authentic Polynesian entertainment featuring costumes, dancing and fire throwing. The Polynesian entertainers are donating their time to the event and will perform every half hour. “It’s a super impressive show,” says Wilde.
Instead of roast pig, attendees will be able to enjoy dinner and dessert from a variety of local food trucks: Walking Taco, KO, Flame ‘n Fury Grill, Ole Buddy’s Oinker Express, Pelican’s SnoBalls and Nothing Bundt Cakes. All the food trucks in attendance will be donating a portion of their proceeds to the Gammon Family. The event will also feature a live DJ, field games, professional face painting, and balloon animals.
To help raise money for the Gammon family, there will be both a raffle and a live auction packed with impressive donations from local businesses and individuals. At time of printing, Wilde and friends were still organizing raffle and auction donations, but expect to bid on an incredible range of items: a bearded dragon complete with cage and supplies, a $200 gift certificate from Cakes by Tersey, a free season of baseball with all required gear from Mint Hill Athletic Association, and a “day on the lake” in a private boat, to name a few Raffle prizes will be packages of donations from popular local businesses and vendors like Discovery Place, Kate’s Skate, Extreme Ice, Monroe Hardware, Monkey Joe’s, Inner Peaks, Sweet Frog and Sun Valley Theater.
Wilde has been blown away by the donations they have received, mainly thanks to the generosity of local “mom and pop” businesses. Many of the donations come from people who feel a connection with the Gammon family because of circumstances they have experienced in their own lives. “When you really start talking to these people, a lot of them with a history are just a lot more willing to step up,” says Wilde. “It’s just amazing to see how many people have.”
All proceeds from Aloha! Mint Hill will go directly to supporting the Gammon family’s needs. Most of Damon’s medical expenses are covered by the Gammon’s insurance and St. Jude’s hospital, but Wilde points out that people may not think about the additional financial strains of having a sick child: meeting a high deductible year after year, travelling out of state for surgeries, and unexpected expenses, like the dishwasher leak that irreparably damaged the Gammon’s kitchen cabinets.
“That’s thousands of dollars they don’t have,” says Wilde. “They’re a very modest family; they’ve never asked for help. But I know they’d love to be able to go to the beach. They’d love to be able to spend the next several weeks doing some really fun things with Damon and making really good memories.”
Raising funds to help the Gammon family with their expenses, but it’s secondary to celebrating Damon and his courageous battle against cancer. “For the most part, we wanted it to not be so much about how much money can we make more like just a big celebration for Damon,” says Wilde. “If we can make some money for their family that’s great, too.”
“They’re not giving up on him,” continues Wilde, tearing up. “Everybody’s still praying for a miracle. But at this point . . . it would truly have to be a miracle.”
Aloha! Mint Hill will be held on Saturday, July 7, at Queen’s Grant High School from 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Admission, field games, face painting, and entertainment are free. Please join the Mint Hill community in raising funds for a deserving family and, most importantly, celebrating Damon!