May 7, 2014 at 3:21 PM ET
She was a typical working mom until the heartbreaking death of her young son from cancer changed her outlook forever.
“I was stressed over work,” Cindy Campbell told TODAY’s Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford on Wednesday. “I was stressed over dinner, bath, bed, and pouring a glass of wine at the end of the day, saying ‘Life is hard. This is exhausting.’”
But everything changed when her son, Ty, fell ill with a rare childhood cancer. She and her husband, Lou, held their 5-year-old boy in their arms when he died at home in October 2012. More than two years had passed since he was diagnosed with a rhabdoid tumor at the base of his skull.
“Now, I’m forever changed in the sense that I always try to have that perspective, that, ‘Hey, my son didn’t have the chance to do the future that I thought he would have,” Campbell said. “I always try to reflect on that, and remind other parents to take a step back.”
The Campbells founded the nonprofit Ty Louis Campbell Foundation, which works to fund better treatments for childhood cancers. Thanks to Ty’s love of jumping in mud puddles, they launched the Muddy Puddles Project, which raises money for the foundation through a theme of reminding parents to stop sweating the small stuff with their kids.
“It’s to remember to let kids be kids because there’s kids out there that can’t, so try to always remember that and have that perspective,” Campbell said. “Those days are so fleeting, those beautiful days with your kids.”
Before they lost Super Ty, as they call him, the couple knew they would raise money to help find more effective treatments for childhood cancer.
“We went through such trials and tribulations and through the whole cancer journey, we saw that the treatment options just weren’t available to our son and it was very frustrating,” Campbell said.
She and her husband were constantly researching possible treatments.
“We just were always asking, ‘What can we do differently? What might work this time? Let’s try something,’ and it just wasn’t available,” she said. “We knew then that we wanted to raise money to help support the research, the promise that’s out there, and help fund some of the projects and the clinical trials.”
Although some marriages may suffer during a difficult time, Kotb noted that she felt the Campbells, who now also have a 5-year-old son, Gavin, are “really a force” together.
Cindy Campbell agreed, noting that Ty’s death has brought the couple closer.
“The love for Ty is just so strong, and it really helped keep our family together through it all,” Campbell said. “He’s a magical little guy.”
As Campbell does so much to help others, the fourth hour hosts said they thought she should have some quality time with her family. They announced they are sending the family to Orlando, Florida, for three nights, with hotel accommodations, airfare and theme park tickets.
“That’s so amazing,” Campbell said. “Thank you so much.”
Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.