Sunday, September 07, 2008

Camp E

This is a rerun (posted elsewhere) but I am too tired to drum up new material.

What a Week: A Recap of Camp E

Another week done….

This was my 7th (and possibly final, though I am already rethinking that decision) year to serve as a counselor at a very special camp for children whose lives have been affected by cancer. Many of them are now healthy, typical kids. Some of them still bear the scars of their treatments, which may include physical scars, amputations, facial deformities, bone aches, limps, weight gain from steroids, stunted growth, hearing loss, and so forth. Others are still in treatment and dealing with what this brings them—low blood counts, no hair, easy bruising, lethargy, and emotional strains. Others who have come to camp healthy in the past are now a shell of what we remember them as, as they are facing the dreaded relapse—which often times means an even more difficult battle than the ones they have already faced. Counselors also learn that for many of these kids, cancer isn't the worse thing they've had to face. Yet, through all of their hardships, these kids come to a camp in the country (one girl called it creepy because it was in the woods) and find time to laugh, make new friends, fit in, and hopefully learn to be a kid again. How blessed am I to get to experience this awesome week yet again!

My cabin was made up of 6&7 year old girls (plus one 8 yo), and what a rainbow of diversity we had! Hispanic, Indian, African American, Nepalese, Polish, Caucasian, all living together for a week. The girls were the sweetest, most helpful, easy going bunch I think I've had yet. We had a little girl who had a brain tumor and radiation as an infant. We had been told she would require a lot of hands on. Well, how wrong the information was. Yes, her walking was unsteady. Yes, she had a hearing aid and cochlear implant and glasses. Yes, she wore braces on her feet. But most importantly, yes she was very intent and headstrong and insisted on taking care of herself to the fullest extent possible. She even fell down a time or two as she rushed to hold the door open for fellow campers. What a joy her sweet helpful (and stubborn) spirit is. We had a 3rd time camper in our cabin, who at 8 years old, acts like a little adult. She is already talking about how she wants to be a counselor when she grows up. I don't doubt that she will be a very good one. She was such a mother hen to the other girls, and a huge help to her 6 counselors.

I love that camp enables these kids to fit in. I love that the kids I have seen over the years—not always in a cabin with—have blossomed into young adults. There is the camp graduate (age 15) who is small for his age, has some facial deformities from radiation, who always wore sunglasses and a ball cap and never looked up. Last year, he participated in a skit. This year he did more and he also showed up to camp w/o the baseball cap. I talked to him a bit one night and got a hug. Chances are, I'll never see him again but will always remember the progression he made over the years, and I have to think camp had a lot to do with that.

Our little girl who I mentioned earlier brought with her a little stuffed animal. The animal was well known throughout camp by the week's end. We joked that if she was lost, camp would shut down and an all out search would go on. Fortunately, Pinky made it home, though she needed a bath. Anyhow, on the ropes course, we were unsure if little Miss Independent would participate. She got harnessed up and sat and watched her cabin mates go before her. One of the camp counselors who works summers there (a former camper himself) came up to her and said Pinky needed a harness as well. He proceeded to harness little Pinky up. Pinky went up the incline wall hooked onto a carabeener. She then went down the zip line with her owner. I really don't think that ride would have happened if Pinky would have stayed on the ground. We were all amazed and touched at the gesture shown by this young man.

Anyhow, another year has passed…camp was really great, though very hot. I enjoyed the time with my fellow counselors and the kids. I really don't think I'm ready to give this part of my life up; it's too rewarding, too fun, and a strong dose of perspective.

On another note, my first year at camp happened the week after Dakota died (more pictures here). I left for camp the day after his funeral. That first year is a blur—as it is for new counselors, but even more so for me. I had that heaviness over me. As the years have gone by, I always associate camp with Dakota. Just the timing…the healing. That first year I spent some early morning alone time at the chapel just thinking, reflecting. I managed to do that most years afterwards. Well, this year was the first time I didn't feel that connection. I realized on the last night that I hadn't thought of him all week. This at first made me sad, a bit guilty maybe. Then I realized that maybe for the first time I was completely "there" for my campers, without any personal issues lingering in the back of my mind. Anyhow. Camp truly is a healing place.

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