Camp Ukandu

photo-2Honestly, 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.

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6 thoughts on “Camp Ukandu

  1. Dear Nathalie, Thank you for sharing your beautifully written account of your Camp Ukandu experience. I continue to be deeply humbled and inspired by your wise beyond your 15 young years perspective and genuine appreciation for what is truly important in Life. You have a special gift for expressing yourself, speaking from your heart with openess, honesty, and unique insights, and for shining your beautiful light in this World and the Lives of others.
    Sharing the joy of your wonderful camp experience with great happiness for you and your parents, and reaching out to share special hugs, caring thoughts, healing wishes, and continued Hope,
    Bonni Hess, mother of 32 year old ASPS patient Brittany diagnosed in July 2001 at age 19

  2. Nathalie, you have a future as a writer. As a pediatric nurse, you will have much to write about and I sincerely hope you will find time to do that. Your blog entries are filled with such honest and open sentiments; you pull no punches and tell the truth which must be so inspiring to other teens with cancer. The best part, though, is you always express optimism and hope which is inspiring to the rest of us. God bless you every day of your life for the special gifts you have and share with others. xoxo
    Thank you for being you!

    • Nathalie, What a beautiful piece of writing on your recent stay at Camp xx What a great place it sounds, fun was had by all x I share your dismay on the future funding of these camps and I am hoping they will continue. Take care beautiful girl and I hope you will keep writing these wonderful blogs x 💜

  3. I loved hearing about your experiences at Camp Ukandu, Nathalie! I’m so glad you took the chance to go even though you weren’t feeling so great…So special to have a week where you didn’t feel different from others, where you just understood. How awesome to make new friends, have fun, new experiences and live LIFE despite cancer! I’m sure your sweet spirit touched many others there.
    I will give support to Camp Ukandu and research for ASPS. Both are important.
    Keep on “pushing the envelope” sweetheart! You are an amazing girl and I love you bunches!

    Grandma

  4. Nathalie
    Your positive attitude will take you far !
    As Bonni said earlier , you are certainly wise beyond your years.
    Bonni and I and many others share stories etc on they ‘icureasps ‘ forum
    Would you all mind sharing with us where you began and where you are currently in your ASPS journey sometime ? It has been a great source for our family since 2012 and the diagnosing of our then 32 year old son.
    Keep up those beautiful smiles

    Debbie P
    Our son is Josh from Kansas

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