My favorite things about cancer camp:
- Camp is blind. Blind to race, ethnicity, socio-economic status. It is the place where the cool kid can hang and play with the socially ackward child, where the blind child is being lead by the bald child, and the child with hair is pushing the wheelchair of the recently amputated kid. No one stares at the young man who is amputated from the thigh down, nor do they question the motives of the friend next to him carrying his prosthetic leg. The richest of kids join with the poorest of kids. Because really, cancer is just as blind to these distinctions as well, crossing all boundaries and affecting everyone.
- It is an opportunity for children with cancer to feel normal. Not the outcast or the taboo child with the big "c word." They are kids, just like everyone else. They act like kids and appreciate the time to be normal. At the same time, they get the chance to be around others that have been through similiar experiences. They discuss their cancer and treatments like trading cards--"oh, yeah, I had that." "Did you have this medicine?" "Me too!"
- On average, about 75% of the volunteers of returners. We have former campers and cancer survivors returning to give back. We have a federal judge, a firefighter, a cop, many school teachers, busy oncology nurses and doctors. Two volunteers have been there for 25 years. Last week, we celebrated the 25th year of camp. Now, that should be a true testiment to the power of this camp. Can you imagine being devoted to a cause/volunteer organization without any lapse or change for 25 years? The dedication that takes. Trust me, if it wasn't meaningful, we wouldn't have that kind of volunteer retention.
- Friendships formed at camp. These are both friendships between campers and those between counselors. Two of my favorite staff members became friends 19 years ago when they met at camp. Now, they are best friends. They are family. And Camp Discovery? Like one big family. My first year, I was so intimidated by the first day of volunteer orientation. We met at the hospital to load up the trucks and then caravan out to the camp grounds. Walking up, all I could see was everyone hugging and excitedly talking to each other to catch up. I stood there not knowing a soul. Eventually, I met up with a group of two other women that were first year volunteers as well. This year I was one of the ones excitedly hugging my camp friends, whipping out pictures of Maggie to share with them all. My friends I met that first year? Some of the first I hugged! I love these incredible people. And after four years, I finally feel like part of the big Camp Discovery family.
- The time for the caregivers--nurses, doctors, other hospital staff--to see their patients in a setting that doesn't involve pain, sickness, hurting. They aren't administering chemotherapy (though we can if needed) or seeing the kids lying lifeless on a hospital bed in the throws of treatment. At camp, they get to see them having fun with friends. Most of the nurses have told me that is what brings them back to camp. To see these amazing children when they aren't just at their sickest, as they usually see them in the hospital.
- The laughter! We laugh so hard at camp! The kids can be so silly. We have fun moments that create large amounts of belly laughs like Jello Wars, skit night, and sometimes even just meal time. After we all left the kids, six of us ended up at the airport, waiting to head back home to Dallas. At one point, I had to apologize to the unsuspecting family that chose to sit in the same area as us. We were laughing so hard we were near tears, recounting stories from camp.
- The evening activities. These blew me away the first time I came to camp. When we say it's carnival night on Tuesday, we mean CARNIVAL. It is a mass production. Thanks to a company in San Antonio called Genzyme, we have a huge event. There is karoake (seriously, how do you properly spell that?), games, crafts, inflatable things such water slides and maze, dunking booth, and so much more!
So, it goes without saying that the fifteen year old girl? She was right. Camp is our cure. And I will keep going as long as I can.