Cancer camp for kids: A life-changing event

Why a kids “cancer camp” can be life changing for everyone.

By: Marcia Stubstad, RN, CPHON .

kids with hands in a huddle at camp
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It’s almost summer camp season, and I am busy updating the mailing list, fielding emails from parents asking when registration opens and watching wide eyed kids grow excited as they hear about this year’s theme.

A “new to cancer” mom looks with terrified eyes when we talk about letting her child attend camp — even while undergoing treatment … and she asks, “why?”

So I ponder myself — why is “cancer camp” so important, and why do I love Kamp KACE so much?  To me, that question brings so many images to my mind. I believe every childhood cancer survivor needs camp because:

  • Every year, some camper will show up at camp feeling “sick” or “alone” and tired of being left out of everything. And every year, some camper will come home feeling “well,” like “one of the kids,” and knowing that they can do anything … even with a port, and a bald head!
  • Maybe it’s because the angry teenager who just lost his leg, scaled the climbing wall with 50 campers and staff cheering him on, and after camp, how he now smiled for his hospital nurses, interacted with others on the hospital ward … and was one again full of life.
  • The young boy who has Asperger’s and cancer who finds out that at camp everyone treats him just like everyone else.  And Dr. K loves superhero and Sci-Fi movies and books, too.
  • The campers who during craft time create a memorial for their friend who passed away last year — but he left a legacy in their hearts and minds.  So they paint his name on stones and make luminary bags in his honor.
  • The thrill of all campers and the shrieks of joy as the “chosen” new campers get to help push Dr. K off the dock.
  • The child who lost his leg last year who said “I never thought I’d swim or dance again” but got to do both at camp.
  • The seasoned campers welcoming every new face and every new child, whether 5 years old or 17, whether on treatment or off, welcoming them with enthusiasm and a smile, to a place where they belong. Where they can just be kids again, if only for a few days.
  • For the parents who come to pick up their children and see joy, maturity and life returned, and for the time those parents got to spend re-charging, knowing their children are safe and having fun.
  • And how at closing campfire, we sing about friendships gained — both new and old. How those friendships remain for years, and maybe a lifetime.

Camp is more than fun. It is more than s’mores and fires. It can be the beginning of the journey back to wellness and health through the support of others who have already survived the journey.

For more information or to register, go to kampkace.org.