This is the 30th anniversary of Camp CARE, and we’re celebrating all year! What makes Camp CARE so special is the stories. Your stories. All of the fun, laughter, tears, magic, happy memories and moments-you’ll-never-forget from Camp CARE. In honor of our 30th anniversary, we want to tell these stories, and we can’t do it without you! So please send us your favorite Camp CARE memory and why you think Camp CARE is special. Stories from campers, parents, staff, board members, volunteers…all are encouraged. We’ll be sharing on our website and Facebook as a way to inspire everyone and celebrate our history. Thank you in advance.
Along with you story be sure to include your name, role with Camp CARE, # of years you’ve been involved (and what years) and a picture, if you have one. Submit your story HERE!
Elephants and NO Sharks
I am very fortunate to have a favorite memory as both a camper and staff member! There are too many amazing Camp CARE moments to count, but there is always a few that will stand out in my mind.
As a camper, my favorite memory was riding an elephant! Who would have thought that an elephant would be at Camp CARE?! And at the top of a mountain! The year of the circus (our 20th anniversary) was a year of many favorites for me, including learning how to walk on a tightrope (which I loved and was determined to do perfectly before the end of the week!) and flying on the high trapeze! It is impossible to explain the extreme FUN and JOY that I experienced every week at Camp CARE, but especially that week.
My primary role at camp is a lifeguard, and my favorite memories occur each year when the younger cabins take a boat ride and swim in the lake for the first time. For many kids this is the first time in their lives that they have been either on a boat or swimming in a lake. It is so exciting to take them out and let them experience all of their lake “firsts” and watch as the thought of cancer goes FAR AWAY for those few hours! And since the number one question asked on this boat ride each year is “Are there any sharks?” I will go ahead and clear it up…NO! We can all safely swim and enjoy our time in the lake, shark-free!!
I always marvel at the transformation of campers during their week at Camp CARE. Before camp, we often see their personalities lost or hidden by the grind of sickness and treatment. But, seeing a camper recapture the child within them is the best memory for me.
I very much remember the first time I witnessed this in a young camper, who was in the midst of treatment during her first time at camp. One of the older campers befriended her at dinner as she was sitting alone. It seems that the older camper’s mom had asked her to check in on this young camper, who was very quiet, shy and withdrawn. We encouraged her to sit, talk and eat with us at dinner that night.
On Friday, I was assigned to the craft cabin, and there she was! I was amazed…she talked the entire time and told everyone what a great time she was having at Camp CARE. She especially loved the songs and could not wait to share them with her family. You would have thought these were two different children!
As we always say…a child is, first and foremost, a child, and sometimes they need a place and time for rediscovering that part of themselves.
Because of camp…
I have been trying to decide what I can share as a single favorite memory of Camp CARE, and it is impossible. I tell patients and families in the clinic that this is my favorite week of the year every year, and I am so thankful to be a part of it. Here are a few of the reasons why.
Because of camp…..
I get to see the patients and siblings that I work with on a daily basis just being kids, having an amazing time, being messy, being silly, being independent, making new friends who “just get it,” trying things that they never thought they could accomplish and succeeding.
I get to talk to the parents after camp, and hear how their child came home happier than they had seen them since treatment started, with a new sense of self and independence, and hear how Camp CARE made their brother or sister feel like “they matter too.”
I get to see the impact of the friendships they formed, in the infusion room and during hospital stays. I can think of a sweet set of friends who met in the cabin at camp who insisted that the physicians change their treatment schedules so that they could receive their chemo on the same days.
- I get to see patients who are so accustomed to being cared for providing care to others. They welcome new campers to their cabin and help them feel included. They have conversations over lunch about what was easiest for them to eat when they were feeling nauseous, just like the camper next to them who was discharged from the hospital that morning. I’ve seen an LIT who had his Hickman removed only weeks before camp holding a six year old camper for hours in the pool so that she could still play in the water but didn’t get her own Hickman dressing wet.
- I get to see other counselors and staff fall in love with these children, be amazing, be messy and silly and try new things themselves. They leave the week having been more impacted than the campers ever could be.
- I get to see children with physical limitations pushing themselves past any expectation to participate without the assistance our staff has offered. One sweet, stubborn, sassy camper last year decided at the end of the week that she was done riding in my golf cart, and she didn’t care if it took her an hour to get where we were going she was walking. And she did.
- I get to offer that golf cart ride in a cart with the name Hope on it because her amazing family was kind enough to donate it to us, and we think of her each day we drive it.
- I get to see creativity at its finest. The things that our board, planning committee, staff, and campers can come up with to make camp different and fun and magical every year are amazing to me.
- I get to meet some of the kindest, most thoughtful, and generous souls. Not just the volunteers but the individual donors and organizations who fundraise year after year to make camp happen because they believe in the power of our staff to make this magic somehow. Their commitment is phenomenal and they rarely receive the accolades that they deserve. Without them there would be no Camp CARE.
- I get to make some of the most amazing friends that I have in my life!
My favorite Camp CARE memory is best told via video so everyone can experience how special and meaningful it truly was to me. Enjoy!
Of course, one of my favorite parts of Camp CARE is getting to see our patients outside of the clinic. I have so many great memories, but really one stands out above them all. Last year, one of our patients/campers won the Spirit of Camp CARE Award! It was such an awesome moment to see him shine up there in the midst of everything that he has been through over the years. I sent his mom a photo when he won, and she was just so proud of him. I also shared it on the Blume Facebook page for everyone to see! I love all that Camp CARE does for our patients and siblings.
Different But The Same
My favorite story at Camp CARE was watching two girls during an organized soccer activity. From the looks of it, the girls had nothing in common – different ethnic backgrounds, different communication skills, different athletic abilities. But they shared the same illness, and that was all the commonality they needed. It was moving to see how kind they were to each other, not only at that activity, but throughout the week.
My favorite memory from Camp CARE was during cabin time. All of our campers and counselors sat together and talked about our favorite part of camp. One camper said it was a place where everyone fits in: with hair or bald, shunts or ports, getting treatment or in remission. Everyone always fits in, no matter what. She loved that she didn’t have to explain what a port was and wasn’t stared at when she was bald. Everyone understands what the other is going through or went through. It brought me to tears because I knew exactly how she felt.
After everyone had a chance to speak, we went around and hugged each other! Cancer is a club that no one ever wants to join, but when you do, you become part of a new, loving family. Having cancer and being a counselor at Camp CARE are the main reasons why I want to become a child life specialist, and I can’t wait to help as many kids as possible.
I have so many favorite memories, but an all-time favorite is tubing with a teenager who had a brain tumor. All he wanted to do was be able to tube. Because of his condition, he went on a sitting-up tube with two counselors accompanying him, and we went at a slower speed. The smile on his face as he had his arms up in the air will always be marked in my memory. I’ve never seen him smile so big! I’m pretty sure all involved fought back tears that day – I know I did.
Nightly Prayers and Special Songs
Last year, I had the privilege of meeting a real superhero, one of the girls in my cabin. I have never met a more joyful, loving, kind and funny teenager. From the moment she got there, she had the biggest smile on her face. One of my co-counselors told me that I would love her, but I had no idea how much. We had so many good times, but there are two that stand out the most.
One night, all of the other girls in our cabin were getting ready for bed. This camper was already ready and sitting on her bed. She was saying something, so I walked over to her. She was saying her nightly prayers. She was speaking in Spanish, so I asked her if I could join her and she told me in English what she was saying. She was praying for all of the kids in the hospital, her family and praising God for her blessings. I started crying, but tried not to let anyone see me. I just sat there thinking, “this sweet girl is truly a gift to all she meets.” She could easily choose to be angry at her own circumstances, but instead, she is thankful and praying for others.
Another happy memory was of her cheer/song at the un-talent show. She was SO excited to perform because she had a special song dedicated to Amy, our program director. It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, and it demonstrated her ability to be joyful when, again, she could easily choose not to be. I will never forget her contagious laugh, and I am truly thankful I got the chance to meet her.
Rather than just one camp story, I have a whole list of things I love about Camp CARE!
I love when campers arrive on Monday. I love seeing the returning campers meet up with friends they’ve met in previous years. I love watching the new campers quickly make new friends and come out of their shells. I love dancing and singing along with Hot Rod. I love walking to the waterfront and watching the campers playing in the water and tubing. I love watching everybody cheer when the cookie mush trays come out of the kitchen. I love sitting on haystacks and watching the bonfire. I love watching the children prepare for the talent show. I love seeing the many random acts of kindness. I love the giggles and screams and laughs that you hear at the swimming pool. I love watching children sitting around the craft cabin tables, working intently on their works of art. I love seeing everybody hanging out and playing games under the Big Top. I love watching how excited the kids are about being transformed before the dance. I love breakfast themes. I love seeing the coziness of the strings of lights decorating the cabins. I love seeing Flashes of Hope pictures. I love the staff that work long hours for months and months to make sure the week of camp has not only a Plan A, but also a Plan B, C and sometimes D to make sure the week is awesome. I love how the kids help each other out and share their stories. But mostly, I love what Camp CARE is all about!
My first year volunteering as a counselor was last year in 2014. I prepared myself for an exhausting, long, hot and emotional week.
I lost my first son, Jacob, to cancer in 2003, and I wasn’t really sure if I would be a good fit for this counselor “gig.” How do you prepare yourself for this experience? Now I know that the question should actually be how do you prepare yourself for a week of TOTAL AWESOMENESS? I was so impressed by every detail, training and the organization of events throughout the week.
I have so many memories from my first Camp CARE experience, but I think the most amazing memories are of watching the campers just be normal. Being normal by braving the rope swing, cannonballing in the pool, singing camp songs by Hot Rod, being sweaty and smelly just like everyone else, calling people out and asking them to “shake their rumpus,” hearing the crowd roar with laughter and cheers during the un-talent show and the HUGS! The hugs are the best.
For me, the week of camp was amazing. I’m proud that I survived emotionally. Everything else was a piece of cake. What I took away from my week was more humbling than I could ever explain. Giving up a week of time is a gift that not many people can or will do. There are so many that have been giving their weeks for many years, and I admire that deeply.
For me, giving a week of my time is simply a treasure and so healing in many ways. The treasure is giving back in memory of my little boy. And you’d better believe that I will keep these memories in my heart tucked close with my precious memories of Jacob.
So thank you, Camp CARE. I look forward to many more memories.
Big Impacts from Little Kids
One of my first years as only a lifeguard (meaning, I wasn’t a cabin counselor – I was dedicated full time to lifeguarding), a particular camper made a big impact on me. This camper came up to me, hugged me and said that he wished I was his counselor again that year. I definitely never expected to make that kind of impact on him, or for him to make that kind of impact on me. I will never forget that.
The Circus Came to Camp
My favorite memory of camp is my first year when the circus was at camp. I really enjoyed the entire theme, and how much the kids loved the variety. One of the campers did an awesome job of learning to walk on stilts, some others were great with the Chinese yo-yo, and others just liked going on the trapeze. I’ve been a counselor for 10 years now, and this was also the only year each and every camper in my cabin did something for the un-talent show. I will always remember my first experience at camp as being the one that set the stage for having fun, being involved and loving to watch the campers have fun and be excited.
Over the years at Camp CARE, I’ve met so many amazing children who have truly changed my life. And I think what’s impacted me above all else is how much Camp CARE has changed their life. For one week, they get to be normal. They get to be a child, just like any other child. They don’t get funny looks because they have cancer. Their bald heads, wheelchairs, scars, chemo pills – it’s all just part of being a kid.
I always hope that my campers have fun at camp. I do everything I can to make sure they have the time of their lives and leave doing everything they want to do – even if it’s jumping off of the diving board 100 times, making 57 bracelets in the craft cabin or never napping during rest time. Because for one week, they get to be normal – and I want them to have it all and live it up to the fullest.
And while everyone appears to be having fun and there are lots of smiles and happiness and joy, you sometimes never know exactly how much camp means to these kids. Until the last day of camp a couple of years ago – that’s when I knew.
Everybody was leaving, everybody was saying goodbye. Camp was over, the buses were loading, we were doing one last once-over of the cabin to be sure that no stray necklace or flip-flop was left behind. And I hear a little voice from several yards behind me saying, “Miss Lauren, Miss Lauren!” And I turned around, and it was one of my campers, running as fast as she could toward me and sobbing hysterically. “I’m just going to miss you so much! I just had so much fun at camp! I’m going to miss you so much!”
And of course, I started crying right alongside my six-year-old friend. She was crying because she didn’t want to leave. She had so much fun that she wasn’t ready to go home. And while I never like to see kids crying (especially at camp!), it just hit me right then and there exactly what camp does and means for these kids.
For a week, we give them fun, activity, friends, understanding and normalcy. For a week, we make them feel special. And in that week – everybody is happy and everyone’s life changes for the better, especially mine.
I had already been involved in medical camping as a professional for close to 12 years before I arrived at Camp CARE. Before being a camp professional, I had been going to camp and then working as a counselor during high school. So in total I had something like 25 years of camp experience before stepping foot on Camp CARE property. My first summer I was a volunteering as cabin counselor and I’m not afraid to admit….I was a little freaked out. This was the first time since I was 15 that I was going to be living in a cabin with a bunch of kids for a week! Yikes!
Before arriving in Charlotte my whole job was telling camp staff how to be good counselors, and teaching tips and tricks for a successful week. Would it all work here at Camp CARE? What if the kids don’t like my ideas because it’s not what they’ve done in the past? I hope there’s chicken fingers!
I was assigned to a cabin of boys, maybe 11-13 years old, the second to oldest group. Almost all of them had been to Camp CARE before so they really showed me how everything worked around there. My co-counselor had been going to Camp CARE since he was little, so I tried to just hang back a bit and watch how things worked, jumped in when needed, and kind of let their version of Camp CARE happen. It was a fun first day.
As the day was wrapping up and the guys were getting ready for bed I asked my co-counselor if they ever did cabin chats before. He said no, but I could give it a shot if I wanted. In my past camps it was always a very organized time of the night, where we’d sit on the cabin floor and talk about a subject before hopping in bed. This first night though all the guys got in bed after cleaning up, and we just sat in our lounge chairs in the middle of the cabin and listened for a bit. You can imagine the conversations we were hearing from this group of pre-teen boys. Girls, farts, and music. Not necessarily in that order. Even though the conversations were entertaining I finally spoke up and just asked what they were all looking forward to doing that week. The cabin was pretty dark at this point, you could barely see some faces, mostly just silhouettes. A few answers came out quick like “go to the pool,” “tubing,” “talent show,” or “dancing with Sally” (her name has been changed for her protection or his). Then from a top bunk somewhere in the darkness someone said “see all my friends,” it was quiet for just a second, then other voices started to agree, and they talked about making new friends and old memories from camp. It turned out to be a great way to kick off the week!
For the rest of the week that became our routine, each night we would sit in the dark and chat about our day, our dreams, our friends, or the friends we’ve lost. There was never a time limit, everyone just laid in bed and we chatted. Gradually my co-counselor and I would notice that the guys were falling asleep and we would quietly pack up our lounge chairs and head to our beds as well.
The campers don’t always notice it at the time, but sometimes those simple moments in the cabin are where friendships really grow. It doesn’t matter how well you can swim, or how artsy you are, whether you can sing or dance, it’s just hanging out talking with your pals. The cool thing about cabin chats is what’s said in the cabin stays in the cabin so I can’t really give you more details, but when the 10 boys and even my co-counselor all have one crazy, stupid, sad, horrible thing called cancer in common…I can only say I feel privileged to have been a part of some of those talks.
Camp CARE counselor, board member, & web guy