The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest


The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest


The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest


Remembering Alex Camacho

Photo courtesy of Camacho Family

When ELL teacher Nancy Blackburn first met freshman Alex Camacho in 2021, she didn’t know they would bond over a disease she survived and he was still struggling with. 

She didn’t know they would keep in touch over months with miles between them. 

She didn’t know she would one day attend his funeral. 

She didn’t know his memory would remain with her forever. 

“He was a very strong young man,” Blackburn said. “He was very determined.”

Alex, a junior, passed away in April. He is the third Shawnee Mission Northwest student lost this year, along with seniors Will Ensley and Demarcus Houston.

This is the story of the impact one student — Alex, known to some as Alejandro  — had on Blackburn’s life. The story of a student who was so much more than the third tragedy of the school year.  

*  *  *

Blackburn is a breast cancer survivor. In 2021, she met Alex, a smart and sometimes-serious young man who was a freshman in her study skills class. He stuck to himself, had a small group of friends, was somewhat shy and could easily be described as “kind.” Blackburn soon discovered Alex had battled with cancer, too, until it had gone into remission. 

“Cancer is a unique situation to go through,” Blackburn said. “Sharing that was something Alex and I certainly bonded over.”

Alex’s cancer was malignant — it moved around, it spread.

That year, Alex and his father met with Blackburn for a parent-teacher conference. That’s when they shared the news: Alex’s cancer had returned. 

Soon Alex was trading the halls of Northwest for the hospital rooms of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Blackburn recalls Alex’s last day of school before he left for treatment. 

“That’s a day that will live with me forever,” Blackburn said. “Finding words hard, knowing what to say was difficult. But my main objective was just to let him know how much we cared about him.” 

They kept in touch over the phone, and she would check in to see how he was doing. Her studies skills class sent him gifts and a poster. Blackburn’s dragon boat racing team — the KC Pink Warriors, a group of women who are cancer survivors — dedicated one of their races to him. She mailed Alex a KC Pink Warriors stocking cap and the drumsticks they used in their race to encourage him. 

“I wanted him to know that he was always on my mind,” Blackburn said. “That he was not forgotten. That we were pulling for him.”

Months passed, and eventually, their communication dwindled.

Then, on October 28, 2022, Blackburn’s birthday, she received a text from Alex. Even though it was only two words, she calls it “the greatest gift.” 

It read:

“I won.”

*  *  *

In the first semester of 2022, junior Jose Duran was partnered with Alex in their video production one class. 

“I sat down, he sat down right next to me, we started talking,” Duran said. “It was cool with him.”

Alex was quiet. Considerate. But he was funny once Duran got him to open up. 

“He followed me wherever,” Duran said. “If I had a horrible idea he would never tell me.”

They talked about video games, like Alex’s favorite, Apex Legends. 

“He was a little bit of a nerd,” Duran said. 

Alex opened up to Duran on their last project and told him he had battled with cancer four times, but was now cancer free. 

But Alex’s cancer was ruthless. 

“It never wanted to go away for very long,” Blackburn said. 

His cancer had returned. Alex was in and out of school, constantly shuffling between home, Northwest and the hospital. 

“Alex was a wonderful young man with a wonderful family, and he was a trooper through it all,” Blackburn said. “He was brave, he was strong, he was resilient and he did his best.” 

Because of his disease, Alex only had a glimpse of the high school experience. So much of his time was spent inside sterile hospital walls. 

This spring, Alex’s health took a turn for the worse and he was in school less and less. 

On April 12, 2024, Alex passed away. 

“I just wish I was able to talk to him one last time before he passed,” Duran said.

*  *  *

On April 18, 2024, Alex’s funeral was held at Good Shepherd Catholic Church. Family members, friends, teachers, school administration and students attended. Many held in tears as they said goodbye.

Will Ensley, Demarcus Houston, Alex Camacho.

Each name is a group of letters stamped with ink onto a page, yet they mean so much more — infinitely more than what can be confined into less than a square inch of space. Ensley passed away in a car accident in July and Houston was lost in a shooting in November. Invisible scars of grief will always be carried by their loved ones. 

There will be dances they will never attend, tests they will never take, sunsets they will never see. There will be songs they will never listen to, memories they will never make, graduations they will not be there to walk across the stage for. 

Alex Camacho may not have had the “typical” high school experience. He may not have always been in school. He may not have been the most well-known. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t leave a mark. 

He was here, and he changed people’s lives. Like his family’s. Like his friends’. Like Blackburn’s.

“It was an honor to know Alex,” Blackburn said. “It was an honor to know his family. His family loved and adored him very much and he was truly supported through his journey.”

Will Ensley, Demarcus Houston, Alex Camacho.

They all were here. 

They are all worth remembering.

Traducción Española: ‎

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