By Alex Vukoder
Camp is still a few weeks away, but 16-year-old, cancer survivor, Sara is already packing her bags in anticipation of seeing her friends.
“We might have met at camp and only get to see each other once a year, but we chat all the time and stay connected through social media because we are not just summer friends, we are lifelong friends,” explained Sara.
For Sara, her camp experience all started in the red cabins, the color reserved for the youngest campers at the specialized oncology camp she attends. At the age of five, she was diagnosed with optic glioma, a slow-growing brain tumor that affects the optic nerves that carry visual information to the brain from the eye. Sara endured what would stretch into 19 months of chemotherapy to treat the tumor. Camp was a place where Sara found she could connect with kids her age and more importantly, other children who understood what she had been through and what she had faced.
“No one judges you at camp. I have the freedom to just have fun, sing silly camp songs and be goofy,” shared Sara.
As soon as camp ends for the season, Sara starts talking about next year.
“Everyone is welcoming. Everyone wants to get to know the real you and be your friend. Camp is a place where you are included without having to explain why you might look or feel different,” said Sara.
The tumor caused permanent blindness in Sara’s right eye, but she has bounced back and pushed to do new things, never letting her tough treatment schedule or vision loss stop her. She is an avid horsewoman, loving to ride and train horses. She also experienced basketball and cheerleading but found her true passion as a member of her high school’s dance team.
“Sara is an amazing person and has handled so much at such a young age. A lot of people have learned from her determination- and camp is a part of that. Camp has helped her find her voice, build self-confidence and develop independence. We are grateful for camp- it is a truly special place,” said Sara’s mother, Melissa.
Sara will be starting her sophomore year of high school in the fall with future plans to study agricultural law and be on a college dance team but her summers at camp are always on her mind.
“Camp is the best week of your life. Once you have experienced it, you will want to go every year. In fact, you will want to live there!” said Sara.
Through donations from the camping industry, Care Camps helps support 135 special oncology camps across the US and Canada, providing exciting summer adventures for thousands of kids with cancer each year. Whether they are in active treatment or on the mend, the one thing that connects them all is the childhood memories they are making as they enjoy nature and benefit from the healing power of the outdoors through camp. We are honored to be able to introduce to you a few of these camp-loving kids each month who have become our heroes. Care Camps provides HOPE, but our kids provide the INSPIRATION.
If you would like to help kids battling cancer experience the healing power of the outdoors, go to www.carecamps.org
This “Hero of Hope” story was written by Alex Vukoder