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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Grief pulls family together

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

KAILUA — Kamali'i Freitas just turned 8.

Kamali'i Freitas, center, poses with her family, clockwise from top left, grandmother Irene Freitas, aunt Debbie Castro and cousins Chalsey and Chantelle Castro.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

She doesn't yet comprehend the nation's Sept. 11 tragedy.

She barely understands the enormity of her own circumstances.

Yet, at her age, she already knows something about the fragility of life.

Kamali'i was diagnosed with leukemia in May, and her father is dying of a brain tumor.

The Kainalu Elementary third-grader, who wears a Powerpuff Girls cartoon T-shirt and is growing back black hair lost to chemotherapy, talks about things like her favorite Disney character, Pluto, and her favorite movie, "Bring It On."

Her favorite topic is the wish she's been granted. She will leave tomorrow for Walt Disney World in Florida on a family vacation paid for by donations to Make-A-Wish of Hawai'i.

Her dad, Robert "Moke" Freitas, will be unable to join her. He is at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center, suffering from pneumonia and the last stages of brain cancer.

 •  How to help

• What: Benefit to raise money for Kamali'i and Robert "Moke" Freitas. Music and pupus are scheduled.

• When: 3 to 8 p.m. Nov. 11 at Kapono's in Aloha Tower Marketplace.

• Admission: Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Honolulu Police Federal Credit Union, c/o Friends for Kamali'i, or call her aunt, Debbie Castro, at 220-2597.

Moke Freitas, a former federal firefighter and assistant fire training chief at Pearl Harbor, had a seizure 11 years ago that changed everything. Doctors discovered a brain tumor but could not remove all of it. He had a second operation seven years later and a third the day after Thanksgiving last year. But a fast-growing tumor has returned to the former football player from the Damien Memorial High School class of 1985.

Freitas, 33, father to Kamali'i and a 3 1/2-month-old son, is now confined to a hospital bed. Kamali'i says seeing her father ill doesn't make her stronger. It just makes her sad.

The adults in Kamali'i's family in Kailua are the ones who talk about how all of this has changed their perspectives on life and death.

"For my niece to have leukemia is one thing," said Kamali'i's aunt, Debbie Castro, who has been raising money to ease the family's strained finances. "But, by the same token, for my brother to be in the position he's in, I just don't know."

Robert "Moke" Freitas, 33, a former federal firefighter, is in the final stages of brain cancer.

Freitas family photo

The lives lost to terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania this month have helped the family focus on what's important.

"You hear about this on TV," said Kamali'i's grandmother, Irene Freitas, who has been taking care of her for more than five years. "When it really hits home, you stop and appreciate what it's all about."

The laughter and resilience of her grandchildren helps Irene Freitas make it through the day. Her daughter also counts her blessings.

"Every day, I tell myself that life is good because I'm still alive," Castro said. "Everyone takes life for granted, yeah? But I know one thing: Live life to the fullest, because you just don't know when your day is going to be."

Reach Tanya Bricking at tbricking@honoluluadver tiser.com or 525-8026.