With summer upon us, kids everywhere will be enjoying time at summer camp. Thanks to the hundreds of medical camps all over the country and even internationally, and all the donors and volunteers that make it possible, kids and teens with chronic or serious illness or disability can also experience the joys that camp has to offer.
Whether you are a parent wondering if you should send your child to medical camp, or a healthcare professional considering volunteering as a way to experience your patients in a completely different way, the inspiring stories in the recently released book, Stars in the Sky Bring the Summer Right Back to Me: A Collection of Stories Celebrating Seriously Ill Children, edited Meera Ramamoorthy, MD, will leave you without a doubt—you or your loved one will want to go to straight to camp!
The stories shared in the book, written by former campers, parents, counselors, and medical professionals, all speak to the transformative power of the camping experience. Becca Moward, a camp counselor contributing to the book, speaks about one of her campers and captures what truly happens at camp: “Doctors had cured her illness, and camp had treated her soul.”
Having been a camp volunteer myself at Camp Okizu, a camp for kids, teens, and families facing cancer in northern California, I have had the good fortune of experiencing camp magic.
Stars in the Sky understands camp is a place “where limited doesn’t exist, and it is substituted with determined.’” In one story, Joe Hildebrand recounts working with a young woman in her twenties who had been in a wheelchair all her life. She had never been in a pool but was up for trying it. “I asked her if she had ever stood up before and she said no. So I asked her to hold my neck and straighten her legs. For the first time in her life, Isabella stood up. Tears of joy were flowing from her face as she said that she would never forget that day, energized by the realization that her illness couldn’t limit her and that anything was possible.”
First achievements are one special aspect of camp, but what has touched me most is that each and every young person feels like they belong. Camp allows kids to be themselves and feel the power of unconditional love and acceptance of exactly who they are. There is an automatic understanding and acceptance amongst campers because they’ve all ‘been through it.’
Sharing scars is a frequent happening at camp. A camper describes her experience: “After just one week there, I wasn’t afraid to show my scars. Better yet, I was PROUD of them.” Counselor Devon Lehman explains, “It took time for her to be proud of her scar, and now she realized it is a part of who she is and how her experience has shaped the person she is today.”
Former camper Nicole Keplinger shares what I’ve found to be such a common feeling among campers: “When I’m at camp, I show a side of myself that a lot of people at home don’t see. I’m talkative, more confident, and outgoing with my cabin. Every year when I came home from camp, I have more confidence in myself and who I am. At the end of the summer, I went back to school ready to show people more of who I really am and how crazy and fun I can be!”
Thank you, Dr. Ramamoorthy, for compiling all the stories of the campers, counselors, and volunteers who give us a glimpse of the magic of camp. To our readers considering medical camp for your child or yourself: if you have the chance, go and experience camp for yourselves. If you don’t, be sure to read this wonderful book.