I’ll never forget the day the call came – it was March 6, 2003, and we were having a blizzard. The pediatrician called and said that Katie’s lab results were alarming and we had to get to a hematologist oncologist immediately. We made it on icy, snowy roads to the oncologist. She examined Katie and within 20 minutes confirmed our worst fears – Katie was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The doctor sent us straight to the hospital. We didn’t even go home to pack a bag. They admitted her and began transfusions to prepare her for chemo and surgery to put in a port. Our world was turned upside down. My beautiful baby girl was very sick. Katie had only just turned 5 and she was scared and I don’t think she really understood what was happening. Our lives revolved around getting her back and forth to the hospital, getting her to take all her meds and keeping her comfortable while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy for her big sister Chloe.
Once we “adjusted” to the routine, I began to look for support. I felt I needed to connect with other families going through the same thing. The social worker at the hospital mentioned Camp Sunshine, so I gave them a call. Camp said they would love to have us, and they had openings. The doctor ok’d it, and the fact that there is a doctor onsite 24/7 was reassuring, so we packed our bags and went. Camp Sunshine is the only camp where the entire family attends, at no cost to the families. The kids have a great time doing all the normal camp activities kids do – arts and crafts, climbing wall, the awesome challenge course. There’s the waterfront for boating and swimming as well as the indoor pool. All the kids are doted upon by the caring volunteers – both the child on treatment and the sibling. There is a lot of stress for the sibling who has a sick brother or sister, but at camp they get a lot of attention as well. I’ve been asked: “Isn’t it sad seeing all those sick kids at camp?” it’s quite the opposite...at camp all the kids are having a great time. It seems to free us all from worry.
While the kids are busy with their camp activities, the parents get to have fun too. We run around and play silly ice breaker games…who thought my path to emotional healing would involve games with rubber chickens? I even got to the top of the 30’ climbing wall! Not to mention 3 hot meals a day in the dining hall and no dishes for a week! The parents have lots of time to talk. I learned so much from the other parents at camp, regarding health issues, emotional issues and educational issues. Camp encourages parents to network, and in turn this helps us take care of our children. And it’s nice simply knowing that you are not alone. We are changed, permanently.
To quote Nancy Cincotta, psychosocial director at camp: “Camp Sunshine can’t influence the outcome of the disease, but we can influence the journey” I find it hard to imagine how that journey would’ve been without Camp Sunshine.
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