A Dose of Reality Mixed with Cheer

Twenty five years ago, pediatric oncology camping became possible because medical advances in the treatment of childhood cancer led to stable remission patterns and, in some cases, permanent cure.

An increase in survival rates and additional attention to the psycho-social and developmental needs of childhood cancer patients opened the door for the Children’s Oncology Camping Association International (COCA-I) to bring children living with cancer together.

“The camp experience has been responsible for setting a strong foundation for my children. They realize that they are not alone in this journey. Because of this support and unconditional love, they are growing up into young adults and giving back to others by volunteering at camp,” one parent noted.

The pioneering members of COCA-I found the lives of children with cancer were immeasurably enhanced by camp. Noting their similar experiences, these visionary souls believed a forum should be created to share their ideas and experiences. Today, that forum is COCA-I, and it has grown to include over 65 member camps from within the United States, Canada and Europe. By strengthening the international community of pediatric oncology through networking, advocacy and education, the camps are able to create magic for these children and families.

What Is A Cancer Camp?

Children with chronic illnesses are often excluded from traditional summer camps for two reasons:

1. Their need for close medical supervision

2. Their physical inability to participate in activities.

With 10 to 15 percent of the population under the age of 16 being afflicted with cancer, it is important to have camps and special places to meet their needs.

In the world of oncology, camp is not a place for dying children, but a place for those affected by cancer to be kids again. Since compassion and understanding are the basis of the camp programs, it would be neglectful to ignore the fact that some will not be coming back. This glaring truth of cancer provides the motivation for those involved in oncology camps to give their time, energy and passion to make these special programs a success.

A Meaningful Experience

A child newly diagnosed is suddenly thrown into a strange adult world where the cure often seems worse than the disease. The demands of living with cancer are traumatic for patients, their siblings and parents. Most kids with cancer don’t want to be treated differently, yet some wish to reveal the difficult times they are having, without others feeling sorry for them. The ultimate goal is to make all campers feel like the children they were before the disease.

“Our time at camp did more for our sick child, our children, our family and our marriage, than did months of counseling,” another parent pointed out. “For once, we were away from hospitals, doctors and clinics–we were almost normal again.”

Camp For All Ages And Stages

Oncology camp offers a variety of programs–from traditional, overnight camping and day camps to weekend retreats and hospital-related activities. COCA-I campers include patients, siblings, bereaved siblings and parents, who often go through the entire course of the disease–from the newly diagnosed to those on treatment or in remission to survivors.

Camp Trillium–an oncology camping program serving the province of Ontario–runs numerous programs for the entire family as a way of recognizing the impact of childhood cancer on each family member. Family camp provides an opportunity for families to share their experiences outside of the hospital. Parents can reassess their relationship with each other and their children. It provides a chance to enjoy a recreational experience filled with happiness and laughter, knowing that the child’s medical needs are looked after, and that health and safety are a number-one priority for staff.

How Does Family Camp Work?

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