Friday, April 25, 2008

Camp Goodtimes

Last summer, David and Katie went to Camp Goodtimes on Vashon Island. It is a camp provided at Camp Burton by the American Cancer Society for kids who have cancer, or are in remission, and their siblings.

A bit of history: My mom is the only child of serious parents, and she felt that going to summer camp basically saved her summers from awful dreariness. She always thought that kids should attend camp, because it was such fun for her. I was privileged to go to camp as a child and teenager, and I LOVED it; my siblings were less enthusiastic at first, but ended up liking it. First, there was Camp Fire Girl camp for a week (at Camp Sealth on Vashon Island) during the summer of 2nd grade. In order to be able to go, I hounded my mother until she said yes, against her wishes, because she felt I was too young. After that, I went to a different camp (Hidden Valley in Granite Falls), during the summers between 4th grade and 6th grade. That was for a month at a time, which is a long time at that age, but it was great fun. The last camp I attended was a sort of swanky, muscular-Christianity dude-ranch in Colorado. I went there every summer until I was 17 (at which time, I skipped camp to take a People-to-People Student Ambassador trip to Europe, for 5 weeks). My point is that I agree with my mom: camp is a wonderful experience, and I wanted our kids to have it. Gregg, on the other hand, had never been to camp, and didn't even particularly enjoy sleepovers as a child, so he was never interested in sending the kids...until Katie got sick, and then recovered enough to be able to go to Camp Goodtimes.
We have a friend who I have mentioned before; his name is "Mooselips" (every staffer at camp has a "code name"), and he is a professional photographer who is also affiliated with Argosy Cruises. I have known him since the 8th grade. Mooselips has been a volunteer with Camp Goodtimes for about 20 years; he is a natural comic, and loves kids. When Katie was well enough, he encouraged us to send her and David to Camp Goodtimes.

Katie hated the idea (she is alot like Gregg). David was willing to go with the flow. We had a couple of real battles (I am being tactful now; it was more like nuclear war) over the camp issue; her oncologist and several of the Hem-Onc nurses gently pushed her to go. The camp has oncology nurses on staff 24 hours a day to take care of the complex medical needs of the kids, and we knew some of the nurses who were going to be there. It was the only place we could have sent Katie to sleep over and have fun for a week, feeling completely at ease about her medical care. (She needed alot of medications and had a feeding tube, and there is just a great deal of worry built into your life when your child has cancer. Handing over her care was difficult, emotionally, and it took careful planning, typing up a schedule and detailed instructions as to how we did everything.) We did prevail upon Katie to go. She was in a terrible mood the day we took her and David to camp. I was a bit nervous, but excited for them.

They ended up having a wonderful time. David got a break from the intensity of the changes in their relationship, and met other people who understood the turn his life had taken. He swam, rode bikes, played basketball, had a waterfight and went fishing. Katie made new friends, swapped clothes, danced, took a cruise, was silly, had her hair dyed at a carnival, had her picture on the front page of the local newspaper and enjoyed being a "normal" pre-teen girl again, among people who wouldn't stare at her feeding tube and super-short hair, and who knew what living with cancer was...yet were still having fun. In fact, when Katie found out she was going to die, she asked to have her ashes scattered AT CAMP. That tells you something about what it meant to her.

Mooselips took many photos of the kids --way more of Katie; sorry, there's only one of you, David! He also took some great video, but I don't have the ability to post it here.
If you have a chance to volunteer, or to donate, please think about Camp Goodtimes or any of the camps for sick children. It is a miracle and a blessing to have such a thing available, for the patients, their siblings and parents. Go to http://www.cancer.org/docroot/COM/content/div_Northwest/COM_5_1x_Camp_Goodtimes.asp?sitearea=COM if you want to learn more.
To see the article, Katie's photo from the front page and quotes from her (they spelled her name wrong, but oh, well), go to http://www.vashonbeachcomber.com/ and type Camp Goodtimes in the search box. The link to the article will pop up.

6 comments:

Diane Walker said...

I think it's FABULOUS that you sent them off to camp -- Ali did Sealth a couple of times, so it's extra fun to see DABOATA again and remember that emotional time of standing on the dock and waving them off...

We had the same challenge -- my husband had spent whole summers at camp as a kid, and I had never been and didn't see the point. But Ali is now on her TENTH YEAR at Four Winds on Orcas. This will be her first as a counselor, and she adores it; can't wait to be back. Plus it saved her life through all those childhood moves. Good stuff!

Smileygirl said...

That is so incredibly profound that Katie wanted to have her ashes scattered there. What a testament to the camp and what an impact that week had on Katie's beautiful life. I would love to volunteer at a place like this. I will check out the link you posted. I wonder if anything like this exists in Southern California?

Oh and I'm guessing with a nickname like "MooseLips" that he is quite the comedian. That name makes me laugh when I say it.

karengberger said...

I think they have these camps all over the country. It's wonderful that you would like to volunteer; I'll bet they have alot of ways that you could help!

The Engine of the Family said...

I found your blog through Laura's Live Happy Blog. I'm sitting here in tears, so sad about your loss. I have a 14 year old daughter and a 6 year old son and my greatest fear would be something happening to them. I'm so sorry about Katie. The pictures....she is so beautiful and looks so at peace in every one. She almost glows. She was amazingly strong. Stay strong:)

Karla W. said...

I've heard good things about camp goodtimes before as well as one through UPC (camp side by side, for the whole family). I'm glad the kids had fun.

The camp I always went to was Firwood. Mandi went a couple times, but found it to have an extension of the pecking order that had been at school. Since she wasn't wanting to go after 7th grade we've just stuck with day camps.

I agree and think that camps are important. I always thought it was just nice to by myself and not wear the daughter or sister hat for a while. :)

Karla W. said...

It was nice to see some of the familiar faces in the photos. The nurses in Heme/Onc are so wonderful!