For most children and adolescents, summers involve family vacations, hanging out at the beach and enjoying a variety of activities. But for young cancer patients, fun adventures like summer camp are often put on hold.
At MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital, cancer patients have an opportunity to experience camp, thanks to generous donors and partnerships with organizations. The support helps MD Anderson provide a camp experience for cancer patients at the hospital and offer weeklong adventures at area campsites.
Camp season kicks off in May with Family Camp Night at the hospital. Patients and families enjoy food, games, activities and an overview of camps offered.
"We're fortunate to have the support of various community members and organizations that help us provide the camp experience at no cost to our cancer patients and families," says Tomika Gamble, program manager for MD Anderson camps and special events.
Camp for All 2U
Camp for All brings the camp experience to MD Anderson twice a year with Camp for All 2U. The weeklong onsite camp is held during spring break and the summer. Parents drop off cancer patients and siblings at the day camp to enjoy plenty of food, treats and indoor fun including archery, dance, campfires and a petting zoo. The kids take home a T-shirt, arts and crafts and toys, thanks to the generous donations of many. This year, Camp for All 2U closed with special treats from a 7-Eleven Slurpee truck.
Camp Star Trails
MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital has held Camp Star Trails at Camp for All's facility in Burton, Texas, for 35 years. The weeklong overnight camp engages cancer patients ages 6-15 in horseback riding, archery, arts and crafts, canoeing, cooking, fishing, team sports, swimming and up-close interactions with farm animals.
Mary Murray has volunteered at Camp Star Trails for 27 years. As lead camp counselor, she assists with overseeing all counselors.
"We make sure the campers have fun and are safe, and help them develop self-confidence and independence," says Murray, whose three daughters started as counselors-in training many years ago and continue the tradition. "I look forward to volunteering every year. It's one of the most rewarding experiences for me and my family."
This year, Camp Star Trails hosted 180 cancer patients and siblings along with a team of medical staff and volunteers to help support campers' needs. A small group of parents and patients 5 years and under attended Junior Camper Day, which gives a glimpse of what campers will experience when they are old enough to attend the weeklong camp.
Trese Green spent the day at camp with her 4-year-old son, Phall, who is being treated for rhabdomyosarcoma.
"Camp was a magical place for the kids. Although it rained most of the day, there were so many fun activities and games, the kids did not mind the weather. My son did not want to leave. He's looking forward to coming back and spending the week at camp."
Shandra Cisneros, a patient services coordinator in MD Anderson's Child and Adolescent Pediatric Outpatient Clinic, volunteered at Camp Star Trails for the first time this year.
"It changed my life to see patients in a different environment," says Cisneros. "My two sons also volunteered and they will never be the same."
This year, Camp A.O.K. celebrated more than 30 years in partnership with MD Anderson. The overnight camp, the first week of August at the Deerfoot Youth Camp site in Magnolia, Texas, hosts up to 48 cancer patients and siblings ages 15-18. It's designed to help build self-esteem, create long-lasting friendships, sharpen skills and interests and create memories. Teens enjoy horseback riding, archery, canoeing, fishing, dance, swimming, sports and games, arts and crafts, healthy cooking classes and an end-of-camp party.
As at Camp Star Trails, MD Anderson staff are on duty to meet medical needs, including chemotherapy.
Luxury rooms filled with bunk beds. A visit from a slow-moving sloth. Lessons from professional sports players. These are just a few highlights from this summer's Camp H-Town, an oncology camp hosted at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Houston.
Camp H-Town partnered with MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital to offer the weeklong overnight camp for 30 MD Anderson cancer patients and siblings ages 8-13.
"Our founder and chairman, Isadore Sharp, is a big supporter of cancer research," says Tom Segesta, general manager. "He has always challenged us to find ways to give back and to help those in the cancer community."
Segesta and his wife, Robin, started the oncology camp five years ago in Chicago to bring camp to kids in an urban setting.
In April, the Segestas raised more than $22,000 at the Celebrity H-Town Chefs Against Cancer event in preparation for the July camp.
"The idea is to have campers experience a great hotel and learn about the city," says Segesta. "We have so many supporters who have donated services, food and unique experiences to make this camp special for the kids. It really is a community event."
Campers entered the five-star establishment on red carpet, surrounded by cheering hotel staff and volunteers. The camp took over the ninth floor, where rooms became camp activity areas and medical units, complete with MD Anderson care team and volunteers.
Camp directors Rich and Elisa Brundige organized activities at the hotel, including swimming, art, music, yoga, sports, scavenger hunts, a talent show and an awards ceremony. Campers visited restaurants and destinations such as the Houston Zoo, Downtown Aquarium, House of Blues, Market Square Tower and Minute Maid Park.
Pediatric cancer patients enjoy summer activities like canoeing. Photo by Adolfo Chavez III
Campers enjoy a week filled with fun activities at Camp Star Trails in Burton, June 17-22. Photo by Pharris Photography
Katsie Brock beats the summer heat with a game of cards at Camp A.O.K. Photo by Adolfo Chavez III
Patients and siblings alike perfect artistic skills at the Four Seasons’ camp, July 22-27: from left, Samantha Demus, patients Terrica Holmes and Christian Castillo, and James Anderwald. Photo by Adolfo Chavez III
Hotel rooms arranged bunk-bed style give campers such as Leen Al-Shalavi, the sister of a patient, the full camp experience. Photo by Adolfo Chavez III
Good time abound at Summer camps for patients at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital and their families. Photo by Angela Lauren Co