In 1988 I founded a family camp for children with cancer and their families. I was a single mom of two sons and my youngest had T-Cell Leukemia. I created the camp for my sons and for other families for the purpose of bringing laughter, sunshine and hope into our lives. This is an excerpt from my journal about camp and my good friend Lindsey. I love you Lindsey, miss you and will never forget you.
Saturday, September 5, 1999
They come together every September long weekend to meet with old friends and make new friends. On Friday afternoon, they pack up all their worries, sorrows and fears and tuck them into the quiet corners of their soul. Thirty families pack up the car with treasures from home and drive to Camp Health Hope Happiness on Lake Isle, Alberta.
The first few miles of the journey are filled with excitement as kids wonder if their friends from last year are coming to camp and parents mentally do a checklist, is there film for the camera, did I pack the sunscreen, did the kids bring a toothbrush. Twenty minutes into the journey someone says, Oh dear, I forgot my jeans. Mom says forget it, we’re not turning back. Dad is wondering how he’ll get through the next few days. He really doesn’t want to go to camp because he’s worried about paying the bills and he’s also thinking I don’t think I want to spend the weekend with sick kids. Childhood cancer is not something he wants to deal with or think about.
Finally, we’re at camp. As families arrive they look for the camp committee to receive their information package, room assignment and a bag full of goodies for the kids. Introductions are made. The first night is an informal get-to-know you time. By 9:00 p.m. most of the families have arrived and are meeting at the center court to chat with old friends and encourage new ones to take part in the weekend’s activities. Laughs, smiles and good conversation are always plentiful around the first campfire.
Families soon realize that it is here at camp that they have found comrades who share the same agonizing pain and few explanations are needed. New families see hope for the future, long-term survivors see friends who know what the battle is like. They all find comfort and support in knowing that they don’t have to face the pain alone.
The four days go by very quickly and all kids say, “mom, dad, why can’t we live here all year?” Siblings, who feel lost and alone while their brother or sister suffers through the treatments, now feel like a part of the family again. They all see that here at camp there is acceptance, friendship and love.
I have been involved with the family camp for 12 years now and I would like to believe that heaven is just like camp. No worries, no fears, only sunshine, fun and lots of love.
This year is a difficult year for me to smile and play because I still haven’t been able to deal with the devastating news that two of my special friends are on treatment again for the third and fourth time.
I spotted Lindsey right away. Her family had just arrived for registration. I looked at her and I had nothing to say. There were no words of comfort, support or wisdom. I did not know how to tell her how sorry I was to learn that the cancer had returned.
We just looked at each other. She must have sensed my nervousness about the whole thing because she flashed a silly grin at me. I reached out to her and gave her a hug. It was O.K. now. I knew I wouldn’t have to say anything profound or intelligent. I knew at that instant that she would help me. I could see years of hard times in her 15-year-old twinkling eyes.
She was the hero, the brave one and quite possibly stronger than me. If I was Lindsey, I don’t think I would come back to camp. I am sure I wouldn’t feel like swimming, canoeing, eating hot dogs around the campfire and singing happy songs. I’m sure I would be grumpy and not overly interested in doing anything. But cancer, chemo and losing your hair is, the only life that Lindsey knows. She was two years old when she was first diagnosed with liver cancer. Today she is 15 years old and is facing her fourth battle for survival.
She is a source of energy, wisdom and hope for all those who know her. Her parents marvel at her refusal to give up. I still don’t know what to say. Maybe I’ll just say you inspire me Lindsey and I love you very much.
Monday, October 11, 1999
Today is Thanksgiving Day. Engraved in my soul is the anniversary date of Jason’s diagnosis with Leukemia. The sadness of the whole thing creeps into my skin and I become restless and carry a sense of foreboding that destroys my ability to accomplish anything.
So, I sleep for extra hours during the day until the holiday passes and I can continue with my normal routine. Yesterday every part of me ached with sadness. This morning I feel a bit better.
copyright © 2014 Sheila Ethier