Honestly, I don’t know many people who would get excited to go off to a “cancer camp”. When I was first diagnosed, it would certainly not have been something i’d have chosen to do; as I was reluctant to have anything more to do with cancer than I already did.But hopefully next summer, that excited camper will be me. That’s because for me, and quite a few other cancer patients/survivors, Camp Ukandu is much more than that.
It’s a place where you can go and not have to worry about taking all your medicines at the right time, or feeling self conscious of your hair loss. Its a place where you can try new, adventurous things like rock climbing, obstacle courses, swimming, archery, & much more without your parents or doctors worrying over you. But more than anything, it’s a place where you can have fun, make new friends, and just be yourself without the heavy cloud of a terrible disease constantly hanging over your head.
Camp Ukandu, a camp specifically designed for cancer patients and their siblings, was a topic that came up this year, strongly recommended by caring hospital employees and enthusiastic friends. Even though I was open to giving it a try, there were other obstacles that sprang up in the way. For one, my daily life at home was no piece of cake. Everyday I wake up with some form of morning sickness, varying from severe to mild. There are also pills I must take at exact certain times and TPN that I get throughout the night. At the camp, there are medically trained nurses & doctors who have lots of experience with these things, but there was still a worry that away from home, things could get mixed up or have problems. There was definitely a lot of doubt as I went off to camp, but we trusted in our philosophy of trying to do normal things despite the circumstances. Our reasoning was; I could either feel bad all alone at home, or I could feel bad in a positive, fun environment. I’ve gotten the chance to do some amazing things through fighting cancer, all because I put aside my worries and trusted God.
I am so glad that I took the chance to go to Ukandu. There were tons of fun things to do, one of my favorites being art. Some of my best memories include weaving a friendship bracelet with other girls in my cabin, participating in the all camp photo challenge, playing the group games, making my own homemade bow and arrow, getting my hair and makeup done professionally, dancing with everyone at the dance, having a fancy candlelight dinner, riding in the golf cart, and of course, meeting a bunch of new friends. I felt comfortable there, more like myself, and (no offense to my parents,) not in the least homesick! I can guarantee there was no one there with a victim mentality or feeling sorry for themselves.
It was really bittersweet saying final farewells and hugging everyone goodbye at the end of camp. I found I couldn’t shut up about all the fun I had had while driving back home with my family and an elated (bordering on crazed) black and white puppy. 🙂 The thing that puzzled me the most was how something so centered on cancer could also have nothing to do with cancer. There was just an unspoken connection between everyone at camp. You didn’t have to say a word about diagnosis, doctors, or medicine. We understood. I will never forget that week, and hope to return next summer.
As a last note, I’d like to mention that Camp Ukandu used to be funded and sponsored by the American Cancer Society until last year. The ACS chose instead to focus more of their efforts for more research instead of the camp. I’m totally for new research, but was a little sad by their decision. Camp impacted me in a huge way, and I’d love to give back by finding a way to help raise some money for it. I certainly know that this is a cause that has brought joy to me and so many other kids.