When kids go off to camp, some things are certain -- they'll come back with new friends, lasting memories, perhaps some dirty laundry and a bug bite or two.
The same rings true for patients and siblings at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital who attend one of the hospital's summer camps.
In June, more than 150 patients and siblings, ages 5 to 12, packed their bags and headed to Camp Star Trails for a week of fun. The special camp is hosted each year at Camp For All's facility in Burton, Texas, which is completely handicap-accessible.
Just like at any camp, patients and siblings have the opportunity to build their skills in archery, arts and crafts, canoeing, cooking, dance, creative arts, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, team sports and swimming. They also visit a small animal farm, a nature center and tackle the ropes challenge course.
Children's Cancer Hospital's program manager Linda Blankenship makes sure that regardless of the campers' physical capabilities, there are activities that everyone can participate in.
For parents, the camp is a safe retreat for their children, staffed with doctors and nurses from the Children's Cancer Hospital. It's also a place where patients can be themselves, share their experiences and fit right in among fellow patients and survivors.
On the last night, a special evening ceremony allows campers to share their favorite memories of camp and what their wishes are for the upcoming year. Each cabin submits their wishes into the fire as the sun sets and then lights a candle on a wooden star. The star is then floated out to the middle of the lake as the week comes to a close.
Camp Star Trails is free for patients and siblings, thanks to funds from the Children's Art Project, generous donors and the Children's Cancer Hospital.
What makes this camp even more special is that several of the counselors are childhood cancer survivors. They share a unique perspective as they return to serve the campers during the week-long adventure.