With most kids back at school, one summer memory likely stands out for some of our teen cancer patients and their siblings: the prom at Camp A.O.K., a week-long overnight camp held each August in Magnolia, Texas.
“I’ve missed many homecomings and many formals at my school being in the hospital and taking treatments,” says 16-year-old Rumer Austin, who drives seven hours from Oklahoma to attend Camp AOK every summer. “It’s really fun just getting to interact with everyone and look nice for a night.”
Making up for lost time
Diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma at age 11, Rumer has undergone several surgeries and treatments.
“I’ve definitely had my lows,” Rumer says. “You’ve got to just live with it and make the best of things, so that’s what I try to do. And that’s what this camp does, it really brings the positive side to the disease and the surgeries.”
Camp doctor Anna Franklin agrees. “It’s so valuable for the kids to feel like the cancer has not taken away their normal childhood experiences.” An assistant professor in Pediatrics at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, Dr. Franklin credits Camp A.O.K. with giving teens like Rumer a normal camp experience with other cancer patients who understand their struggles. “It takes away the concern about looking different, feeling different, being easily fatigued, so that they can come and enjoy what they feel up for enjoying.”
The highlight of the week
Preparations for prom begin the first day of camp, when campers are measured for dresses and tuxedos. Throughout the week, dates are arranged and groups of friends make plans to go together. On the big day, hairstylists arrive, make-up is done, and the teens receive their formal wear. “These are things that, with all the medical expenses, families may not be able to afford,” Dr. Franklin points out.
For Rumer and her friends, prom is the highlight of the week. “A lot of the kids here, including myself, don’t get to enjoy all the group activities at schools because of treatment or surgeries,” she says. “Getting to get dressed up and actually go have fun with your friends at a dance is really nice.”