Sunday, March 29, 2009

Camp Goodtimes Benefit

Thank you for your prayers & support.
The talk went well, and the entire event raised over $150,000 for Camp Goodtimes. We had fun, too!

Can you see Katie's photo to my left? *

It was a wine auction, & there was a lot of wine flowing, plus great food.
If you are local, you might want to get involved with camp or the auction. If so, contact the American Cancer Society (or Google: Camp Goodtimes West). Paul (alias Mooselips) posted about the evening on his blog, too. He posted some family photos that even I don't have (he took them for us, several years ago)!

Irene asked me to post what I said, so here it is:

"Thank you for inviting Gregg & me to join you tonight. We are so grateful for Camp Goodtimes & are very happy to be here, to give you our thanks for what Camp did for our children, David & Katie.

Growing up in a small town, Katie was the younger of our two children, & the youngest cousin & grandchild on both sides of our family. She was outgoing, funny, creative, sociable, spirited, strong-willed, courageous, feminine, & was particularly devoted to her brother, David. They were best friends from the time she was born.

In school, Katie’s favorite subjects were reading & recess. She loved movies & television. When she talked about growing up, she dreamed of being a model, an actress, an author…& she expected to get married & have children. We insisted that college would fit in there, as well. She had wanted to be a bridesmaid since she was 6 years old, & attended the wedding of her cousin, Marcy.

When we found out, in the fall of 2006, that 11 and ½-year-old Katie had cancer, we were all shocked. Katie had been hiking, running, & playing happily all summer long. She had exhibited the symptoms of a virus for 3 weeks, & had a battery of tests at our clinic; those tests showed nothing amiss. When I noticed a slight swelling in her sternum, we returned to the clinic for an ultrasound, & then the bad news arrived faster than we could absorb it. The diagnosis of a huge, life-threatening tumor was “the end of the world, as we knew it.” We had entered the world of Cancer.

We asked Katie what she wanted us to do to support her, & her response was, “I want us to be together as much as possible.” So we moved from our home in Poulsbo to Ronald McDonald House in Seattle; David left his public school, & enrolled in the Hutch School (the school for kids whose families have a patient at the SCCA). Gregg arranged with his employer to work shorter hours. I stayed M-F in the hospital with Katie; Gregg stayed Sat - Sun. David came directly to the hospital from school each day, & Gregg came directly from work in the afternoons. We were together as a foursome, every day…most of the time, all in the same room. We became, to use an auto-racing term, her “Pit Crew.”

Katie endured 5 rounds of chemotherapy & all of the drugs that complement the chemo regimen; countless tests, procedures & scans (such as CT, Ultrasound, MRI, Echocardiogram, PET, MIBG), 2 to 3 injections per DAY, blood draws & doctor’s examinations. She suffered the loss of her privacy, loss of appetite & sense of taste, loss of her hair; also nausea, skin changes, fatigue, depression, nosebleeds, isolation, mood swings & separation from her friends, missing her first year of middle school (& the ability to live at home, including being with her beloved cats).

She also endured an 18-hour surgery which involved the removal of one of her kidneys, an adrenal gland, a lobe of her liver, & her entire inferior vena cava. She used 70 units of blood products, wiping out the entire supply of her blood type at the Puget Sound Blood Bank (please donate blood!) The scar that remained after that surgery went from the hollow of her throat past her belly-button, & from side to side across the middle of her abdomen. She spent 6 weeks in the hospital recovering, & was finally allowed to go home, to stay, in April!

The subject of summer camp had arisen in our house before Katie’s illness. I was raised in a family that believes that summer camp is a great activity for kids, & I loved it, but Gregg had not enjoyed camp as a boy. In spite of this difference, we both agreed to send David & Katie to Camp Goodtimes, for several reasons.

1. I had always intended for our children to experience some kind of summer camp, just for fun.
2. We knew Mooselips, so I knew that they would have fun with him there.
3. There were nurses & an oncologist on staff, so we knew it would be a medically safe place for Katie to be. Katie’s oncologist wanted her to go, too.
4. We knew some of the nurses who were on camp staff, so we had assurance that Katie would be comfortable with her medical caregivers.
5. We knew a family whose kids had attended Camp Goodtimes previously, & it had been a good experience for them. Their kids would also be familiar faces at camp.
6. We felt that it would be a good way for Katie to get back into her peer group & re-build her confidence, socially. She had withdrawn a LOT during treatment, & we hoped that camp would help to draw her out again.
7. We believed that camp would be an opportunity for independence for both of the kids. The four of us had literally been living in one room for months, & it seemed like a good way for them to branch out, while still being available for one another (at least, on the same property).
And, 8. It was close enough to home so that we could come & get them, if that became necessary (though we didn’t expect it to be).

When we told the children that they would be going to Camp Goodtimes in June, 2007, their responses were MIXED. David was agreeable. Katie’s response was purely negative: she was angry, she argued with us; then she became furious, & she actually had more than one “meltdown” about it. Gregg & I held firm, because we truly believed it would benefit both of them.

For David, camp meant a break from Katie’s emotions & her intensity. They had had a rough patch in their relationship, due to all of the fallout from treatment. He enjoyed the counselors’ understanding & their sense of fun. He was able to just be “David,” & not so much “Katie’s brother” for that week.

For Katie, camp was an opportunity to be with people who did not judge her because of her appearance. Katie was a beautiful girl, & she was devastated by the changes in her appearance due to the cancer treatment & surgery. At camp, she was surrounded by people who had endured similar treatments, & it was no big deal there. She wasn’t singled out as “different.”
She enjoyed going to the dance, swapping clothes with other girls, hanging out, having “girl talks,” & the carnival…especially having her hair dyed in wild colors, & then being featured in a photo & an article on the cover of the local paper!

For Gregg & me, camp meant that we were able to rest & re-group, after 8 months of intense stress, fear & around-the-clock care-giving. We were able to be alone together for a few days.
Meeting the counselors who were former patients gave us hope for Katie’s remission, & for a healthy integration back into everyday life. The counselors understood the issues that Katie & David were dealing with, as patient & sibling, in a way that no therapist ever could, who had not experienced it.

When camp was over, we picked up the kids & went to a family party, where our niece announced her engagement. She & her fiance asked Katie to be a bridesmaid in their wedding, which was planned for February 2nd, 2008. One of Katie’s big dreams was going to come true!

After camp, Katie began to experience increasing pain, so we took her to Children’s Hospital to find out what was going on. On July 20th, about 3 weeks after camp ended, we learned that Katie had another large tumor, but this one was inoperable…& terminal. We took her home, & Hospice began to help us care for her.

Family members rallied, & the bride & groom decided to move their wedding date up. On August 2nd, Katie’s dream of being a bridesmaid came true. She enjoyed helping to choose the bridesmaids’ dresses, selecting GORGEOUS shoes online, walking down the aisle with her cousin, Joey, & holding the bride’s bouquet for her. We will never forget the love & joy that filled that day.
Mooselips was the official wedding photographer, & his photos are now our family’s treasures.

Exactly two weeks after the wedding, Katie passed away peacefully & painlessly, at home, in her own bed, with Gregg, David & me beside her. It was less than two months since the last day of camp.

You may remember that I said that Katie had resisted going to Camp Goodtimes. I will tell you how we knew that she felt it was a significant blessing to her: when she learned that she was going to die, Katie asked us to scatter her ashes at Camp, & when we are ready, we plan to do this.

Thank you ALL for supporting Camp Goodtimes, for providing this respite for patients, their siblings & parents. We could not have created what camp gave to David & Katie, under the circumstances. You gave our family a beautiful gift in a time of great need. Thank you. God bless you!"

*[The photos at the top of the posting were taken at the event. The dress is one of Zena's, which was just perfect for the occasion; I felt super-comfortable in it, and had not a worry! Thanks, Alex, Angela & Courtney!]


Busy Bee Suz said...

Karen, your words are just beautiful. I am so glad that this night was a success for you...I am sure Katie is very proud also of her brave Mamma!!!
I did not know about this wedding being moved up to give Katie her dream...what lovely people you have in your circle. You are really blessed.
Hugs, Suz

Kay said...


You talk was amazing! You said everything perfectly! I have always been amazed when watching the 'older ones' while our little guy was in treatment. Camp. Was. Everything. to them! You nailed it girl!


Anonymous said...

Wow. You really did a good job on this - you can tell you put your heart and soul into it. I'm glad they raised so much $$!

God bless, L in AK

Dawn~^i^Brandon^i^, Jordan, and Seth's mom said...

This was absolutely beautiful! I sat and cried while reading this. I can only imagine the impact and emotion that was in the room. I am sure that Katie would be so proud of you, and I fully believe that God would say..."well done, my good and faithful servant".

What a testimony to that camp and another part of Katie's Legacy!


Karla W. said...

That is beautiful. As it is now I'm trying to keep the tears in. :)

Grazia said...

Hi Karen-
Thank you for your comment on my blog. Laura has mentioned you many times and suggested that we touch base. Though our situations are vastly different, our feelings over losing our daughters sometimes mirror one another. I would love to talk with you about your experiences and coping strategies. Just out of curiosity, were you in Cannon Beach yesterday (March 31?)...I could have sworn I saw someone who looks so much like you (from your picture on your site)....

Hope to hear from you,

Smileygirl said...

$150,000???? Was this just from Saturday's event??? I am speechless Karen. This is unbelievable.

Side note: what a small world! Grazia (we've known each other since we were 4 years old!) saw you at Cannon Beach? Ok I am just freaking out a little right now. I mean what are the odds????

Stephanie said...

Karen, what a great speech, although your writing is so beautiful that I didn't expect anything different. I'm so happy the benefit was a success!

Jennifer said...

Wow. Your words drew me in to Katie's journey (and your family's as a whole too). And you wove Katie's experience at Camp Goodtimes so seamlessly into the entire narrative, which conveyed (to me, anyway) how integral it was in her life. When I got to the part about scattering her ashes at Camp Goodtimes, I lost it.

Thank you for sharing these extremely precious and beautiful words with us.

And congrats on the big bucks that were raised, too! In THIS economy, no less! That testifies to how very deeply hearts and souls were touched by Katie's story and the power of this camp.


Leslie said...

Hi Karen,

Your talk about Camp Goodtimes was absolutely beautiful. Bless you and Gregg for having the courage to share your love for Camp with so many.

I can still remember Katie and David at Camp in 2007. It warmed my heart to see Katie make so many new friends and have some good ol' fashion tween fun! You have two amazing children with some of the most loving parents I have ever seen.

I am sure most every counselor at Camp Goodtimes would say this, but the kids give us far more than we could ever possibly give them. It's a union of love, understanding, and acceptance. It's wonderful to provide the kids with a safe enviornment, where they can connect, and rejoice in being a child, not just a kid with cancer, or a sibling. That's exactly what keeps me coming back year after year!

I'm sure you have heard this from many, but we will *always* honor Katie's memory at Camp. She will always be in our hearts, and never far from our minds. I hope to see David back at Camp sometime if/when he is ready.

Best wishes to you, and thank you again for sharing your story :)

Much Love,

Laurie Brandriet Keller said...

So true to you as well as to Katie. Thanks for being a blessing and inspiration in MY life.

Anna Davies said...

Hi Karen,

I'm another counselor at camp (Jiffy) and I want to echo what Pineapple said—that was beautiful.

And I agree with Pineapple that the kids give so much—Katie was in the cabin that was one year older than my campers, and my campers definitely had admiration for that cabin—great to see the girls being leaders and role models for each other.

It's one of my own favorite weeks from the year. In my "real" life I work as an editor at a magazine in NYC (Redbook, nothing like Devil Wears Prada, but I LOVED your thoughts on that movie a few blog posts back and sorry for my lurkiness), but it's funny how much more "real" I feel as Jiffy . . . and I love hearing stories of kids being able to find their own "realness" there as well.

That said, thank you for sharing memories of Katie. What a brave, beautiful, singular girl who lives in all of our hearts.

xo Jiffy

catperry said...

I finally was able to finish reading your blog and Pauls about the auction and your speech for Camp Goodtimes.
I started several times, touching me so close to heart, so many memories, pictures of Tanner at camp(thanks to Paul) and many tears. I knew you could do this because you know how important camp is to the kids. You have such a way of writing and sharing Katie's story, I was sure you could touch everyone with your words. Thank you, I am sure it was difficult too. And WOW, OH MY GOSH, the money raised is outstanding. Only those that have experienced this wonderful camp - be it each camper, councilors or parents, truly knows the meaning and special memories of that week at camp.
Iam thankful for you in so many ways.
Blessings and peace,
Thank you for your message on cb site as well