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(Jérôme Mireault For The Globe and Mail)
(Jérôme Mireault For The Globe and Mail)

The gift in giving

David Mackeage: ‘It’s easy to be tirelessly passionate’ Add to ...

What inspires people to give? And what do they get out of it? We asked readers to tell us about people who make a real difference in their community, then asked experts in the science of altruism how their generosity pays off for more than just those they set out to help.

David Mckeage is a cancer survivor – in fact, he has achieved that feat no fewer than four times and is still recovering from his latest brush with the disease.

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But next spring the 44-year-old Haligonian plans to be back as director of the unique camp he launched in 2012 after pounding the pavement for 13 years to raise enough money.

Camp Brigadoon Village provides a safe haven – and fun – in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley for 500 chronically ill children. They learn to cope with their ailments, while making friends with others who face similar challenges.

“It’s something I deeply believe in,” says Mr. Mckeage, who became ill as a child and found solace at Camp Goodtime, a week-long program for kids run by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Although diagnosed at 11, he didn’t go to the camp until he was 17 – an experience he describes as a turning point in his young life.

“Believe it or not, camp was the first place I ever told anyone I had cancer. It was a very safe place to talk about it. It was supportive – everyone there had different cancers, but we all shared a common experience. Back then, cancer wasn’t talked about publicly very much so it was a cathartic and freeing experience for me.”

While at university, Mr. Mckeage returned to Goodtime as a volunteer, eventually working his way up to become camp director.

But he came to feel the cancer camp wasn’t enough:

“We had run out of space in Nova Scotia. The province needed a year-round place for kids suffering from all pediatric chronic illnesses because chronic illness is a year-round reality.”

So he began canvassing, approaching everyone from corporations to friends and relatives, eventually raising $8.2-million.

Today the camp has partnerships with hospitals, universities, colleges, non-profit groups and community groups that share its mandate to support chronic-care treatment, education and research.

Mr. Mckeage is currently on a leave of absence while fighting non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “My cancer came back last August, but I can’t wait to get back to Brigadoon,” he says.

“My motivation to build the camp is as simple as having lived it. It’s easy to be tirelessly passionate for a cause if you believe in the benefits, the effects on the population and the way it gives people hope.”

Having been married this year, he now looks ahead to 2014 with great optimism. “I have to do rehab over the winter and put on some pounds – but I got my feeding tube removed about

Positive outcomes

A challenge like the one Mr. Mckeage faced can spark post-traumatic growth – positive psychological change caused by a stressful or traumatic event. It can create a deep sense of meaning and purpose, and people who strive for meaningful goals are happier than those who simply seek pleasure.

– The Canadian Positive Psychology Association

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