At a time when most children are deciding which sport to play, pediatric cancer patients have their lives disrupted as they are faced with cancer treatments. It has been recognized that the camp experience is very valuable in allowing kids to be kids even as they face the harsh realities of cancer. By providing children with safe recreational activities, they can learn coping skills, realize they are not alone, and gain a sense of normalcy. The camp experience not only provides a positive impact on the child but the whole family as well.
When children have the opportunity to interact with others like themselves, they can realize that they are not alone. Camps can be a safe place for children with cancer to interact with peers who accept their limitations and are experiencing similar physical challenges. They can relate to one another by telling each other what treatments they have undergone, the physical changes that resulted, and ways they are coping with the changes. Opportunities such as these allow children with cancer to discover interests, enhance skills, and develop a greater respect for themselves and their abilities.
Camps can provide children with both support and opportunities to be in control of their experiences. By choosing the activities they wish to participate in, they can gain a sense of normalcy. When children and adolescents are given this freedom, they can participate in activities that help them master their feelings and gain a greater sense of autonomy.
Camps can benefit all family members. They provide parents respite with the assurance that their child is in a safe environment. While children are at camp, they can gain independence from parents, meet friends, develop new skills, and discover new interests by participating in activities that may not have been available at home (e.g., canoeing, sailing, swimming). Some camps even offer the opportunity for the entire family to attend. These programs allow parents to relax, gain support from other parents, and spend quality time with their children in a fun environment. Siblings also gain support from other siblings experiencing the same things they are going through. Through the camp experience, siblings can find they are not alone, have their feelings validated and discover practical ways to cope.
Madison is a Beyond the Cure Ambassador Scholarship recipient and NCCS mentor who attended a family camp for two summers while being treated for leukemia. Madison stated, “My mom always had many reservations about going to a camp because my immune system was so low when on treatment, but it was very comforting knowing that they had a doctor on site for any medical attention needed.” Madison feels Camp Sunshine provided her whole family with bonding time. They were able to enjoy themselves for a week of fun without stressing over treatment or hospital visits.
There are many different types of camps offered throughout the country. The Children’s Oncology Camping Association offers over 123 member camps within the United States. Click here to see what camps might be available in your area.