Jessika’s Scholarship Essay

Jessika Douglas is another Camp Sunshine Scholarship recipient. Read some of her thoughts on growing up with childhood cancer.

Instead of a childhood outdoors climbing trees and riding bikes I grew up in a hospital room.  At age three I was diagnosed with T-cell ALL leukemia.  For two years of my life I sat through countless blood transfusions, rounds of chemotherapy, and cranial radiation.  I really did not know what was happening to my body other than I had some kind of disease that made my parents cry.  However, the hospital became my new home and I explored it.  My mother often tells me I would follow anyone in a lab coat.  I enjoyed going to the lab with the nurses or seeing the other floors outside of the oncology ward.  Other than the foul tasting medicine and the multitude of shots, life was grand.

It was not until I was able to go back to school that I realized I was different.  One child asked me when I was going to die.  The thought had never crossed my mind.  I had no idea that I could die from cancer.

The damage from my cranial radiation and chemotherapy treatments slowly came into view as I got older.  I could not run like the other kids, my ligaments were left weak and damaged in addition to balance problems.  I became easily frustrated in my school work because the cranial radiation had damaged parts of my brain related to executive functioning.  Simply being able to finish activities became a problem because of the chronic fatigue.  At Camp Sunshine though, I was like everyone else.  The warmth and acceptance of camp is something I wish I could share with everyone.

Having cancer at such a young age meant growing up faster than the typical kid.  I watched some of my friends die of the very disease I had survived.  Life is not fair, but I look at life as a gift.  If someone asked me if I could change my past and not have had cancer, my response would be no.  I would not be the person I am today without cancer.  Because of cancer, I have a burning passion to go into the healthcare field.  One of my dreams is to find the cure for cancer.  Health Promotions opened doors that I originally though closed because of my disabilities.  Health Promotions bridged the gap between my love of working with people and science.  I dream to one day truly find the cure for cancer if not simply make the treatments more bearable.  I won my battle with cancer.  I choose to live my life to the fullest even with my disabilities for those who cannot.  The faces of my friends that lost their battles with cancer are forever imprinted on my heart.  I dream of when all of society will know about childhood cancer and be as loving and embracing as Camp Sunshine was to me.

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A Blessing In Disguise

Camp Sunshine Scholarship recipient Caroline Redd had some amazing things to say in her application essay, so we thought we’d share an excerpt with you here! Caroline is a freshman at Elon University.

Just like anyone else, I have had struggles in my life, but I have used these hardships to motivate me toward my own personal goals.  My battle with cancer has shaped me as a person and helped me to decide my future career.  I would like to work for a non-profit organization to fund-raise and event plan for children with cancer.  I want to support their families, give back to the hospitals that save lives, and give the patients fun events to help them take their minds off of their treatment.

I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when I was four years old.  I went through rounds of chemotherapy and at one point I was taking sixteen pills a day.  Looking back, I now see the stress it caused my family.  My mother would sit there for hours trying to coax me to take my medicines and by the time I finally took them, it was time for the next round.   It was difficult to go through chemotherapy at such a young age, but I was treated at an amazing hospital with continuous support from my family and friends.

My cancer became a blessing in disguise with Camp Sunshine.  Attending Camp every year is such a humbling experience, because some of these kids have it far worse than I ever did.  At camp, there is no judgement.  We are all like a big family, because we understand each other on a different level.  Many times, members of our family do not make it through this horrible trial.  I have known countless people to die from cancer, and that is a difficult burden to bear, because that could have been any one of us.  Although it has been a difficult journey, I have learned through this experience that sometimes life ends abruptly and unexpectedly, so I try to value each day and constantly push towards my goals.

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Karen McCarthy Celebrates 10 Years of Volunteering

Karen McCarthy has been volunteering with Camp Sunshine for the past ten years and was recently honored at summer camp for her commitment. Each volunteer who hits a milestone like this at camp has the opportunity to make a ten year speech. Karen’s was particularly poignant and she agreed to let us share it with you here.

I never thought I’d be sitting here 10 years later. My journey to camp began like some others in the room; I worked at the Aflac Cancer Center and continued to hear about this “Camp Sunshine” place. When given the opportunity I jumped at the chance to go. Ten years ago I packed up my car; not realizing the transformation I was about to undergo.
I vividly remember the first night of orientation when the volunteers circled up based on years of service. I was astounded by the experience in the room and I couldn’t believe I made “the cut.” As they introduced the first year volunteers an unexpected thundering of applause, that last several minutes, welcomed me to the camp family. I knew in that moment something magical was about to happen.
The magic of camp hasn’t worn off 10 years later. It didn’t take long to realize that although the magic of camp happens naturally it is nurtured and grown by the people in this room. It’s sneaking out to the tree house to celebrate Kristen’s last chemo. It’s welcoming back Terry after an 8 hour shortened stay the summer before. It’s watching counselors create adventures for a curious Jack. It’s crowning Miss Sunshine after she arrived late to camp because she recently enrolled in a trial in Jacksonville to fight her Ewing’s for the third time. It’s the culture of “anything is possible,” where hair and limbs are optional. For those of you who never get to see your campers actively fight their cancer battles in the hospital I can attest that camp TRULY changes lives. Kids literally live for camp. A child’s legacy literally lives on at camp.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about camp it’s that camp is not a place like I originally thought 10 years ago. Camp is a vignette of stories, sown together by campers and volunteers alike. The camp experience for me has become a highlight reel of memories with so many of you playing such integral roles. Emily and Katy, even though you made me sleep on the top bunk and ride bikes, you welcomed me in and you taught me what inclusiveness and community meant. This being Stephanie’s last year as a camp nurse I cannot pass up the opportunity to extend my deepest thanks and gratitude. Having Stephanie as a cabin nurse for two years taught me what goes into being a camp nurse and the hours and sleepless nights it takes to make medicine and healthcare secondary to the fun and memories made at camp.
For me camp has become a place where I can lose myself in human kindness and the resiliency of the human spirit, and because of that I will be forever changed.

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The Beauty of Camp Sunshine by Lanie Shreckenberger

Thirteen summers ago, two little campers reunited for their second year at Camp Sunshine. The one camper, Danielle, had a surprise for her fellow camper Elaina- she was going to be celebrating her birthday that week with everyone! Luckily, they would remember this moment because Duncan Dobie got a shot if the two little girls before they headed to their cabin. But sadly, Danielle had to move away to California shortly after camp was over that year. And she never came back to camp. Elaina (Lanie) a and her cabinmates thought they would never see Danielle again.

But on December 20, 2013 this would change. I made my way to the camp house for the Young Adults Christmas Party and I’ll admit I was kind of reluctant about going. I knew I was going to be one of the oldest campers there and didn’t think many of my friends from camp were coming. I was greeted by Bubbles and Eric Newberg and then went in the back to say hello to the people (including some campers) that I did know. While eating, a girl whom I had (thought) I’d never seen before came up to Jane asking what to do with her plate. Then she was heading out and suddenly Eric and I were talking about Mickle the Pickle. I asked him why we were talking about Mickle and he told me that the girl, named Danielle, said she had remembered him from camp. So then I tried to place her in my head from years past and Eric said she had only ever been in Jane’s cabin when she was little. Suddenly I started connecting the dots and I ran to find Danielle and Tenise. Luckily I caught them before Danielle left and I went ahead and asked her if she was who I thought she was. After seeing my name tag she soon realized who I was and we hugged because it was a Christmas Miracle- I found the girl who celebrated her birthday at camp 13 years ago!

I know this story was long but I hope you appreciated the story. You see, if I hadn’t gone to the party, I never would have seen Danielle and we probably never would have gotten to see each other again. So that’s the beauty of Camp Sunshine- friends come and go but they always have a place in our hearts and sometimes they come back.

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Sarah in Washington D.C.

Sarah is one of Camp Sunshine’s teenage campers who joined us for our annual trip to Washington D.C. Read on to learn all about her adventure!

Hey Camp Sunshine Family!

My name is Sarah.  I was privileged to be one of the teens who got to go on the Washington D.C. trip at the beginning of May, 2013.  It was an amazing trip!  I wanted to write to tell you about Sunday, the final day of our trip.

Sunday was the day we headed home, but we had all morning to finish up our time in D.C.  Just like every other day of the trip, we used our time to the fullest.  After eating breakfast and loading up our suitcases on the bus, we headed off to Arlington Cemetery.  The day before, names had been drawn to see who would get to be a part of the wreath laying ceremony.  I was lucky to be one of the names drawn, along with Carrie, Drew, and Matthew.  After driving to Arlington, while the rest of our group went to stand in front of the tomb, we headed to another area to get instructions for the wreath laying ceremony.

After receiving our instructions, we joined the rest of the Camp Sunshine group (as well as the other people there) to watch the changing of the guard.  It is fascinating how precise everything the guards do is.  While guarding the tomb, they march 21 steps, turn, pause for 21 seconds, turn and pause again for the same amount of time, and then march 21 steps back.  At the changing of the guard, while one soldier goes through his precise routine getting ready to take his place, the guard continues.  Eventually, they reach a point at which they switch places.  The former guard is relieved of his duty and the new guard assumes his position.  It was very interesting.

Following the changing of the guard, there were two wreath laying ceremonies.  Our group was going to lay the second wreath.  The man who gave us our final instructions was very nice and welcoming.  At his cue, we followed him down the steps to a place in front of the tomb.  Then Carrie and I, who were in front, placed our hands on the wreath as a soldier lifted it onto the wreath stand.  The wreath was green, with several flowers throughout it.  It also had a blue ribbon with “Camp Sunshine” written on it in gold letters.  While the wreath was being placed, Drew and Matthew placed their hands over their hearts at the command “Present arms.”  After placing the wreath, Carrie and I joined the gentlemen in putting our hands over our hearts.  Taps was played on the bugle as we all stood silently, reflecting on the moment and the significance of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  After taps, we walked back up the steps.

When the ceremony was over, some of our group decided to walk down with our tour guide, Linda, to view Kennedy’s grave site, as well as a couple of other things.  The rest of us rode the bus back down.

Arlington Cemetery was not out last stop of the day.  Our final stop was The Mall.  We had the choice of going in the Air and Space Museum or The National Gallery of Art.  I chose the Air and Space Museum.  I enjoyed walking around with a couple of other people from our group and seeing the some engines, looking at the model of the Discovery, and viewing other aircraft.  We also had fun with the interactive things.   Some of our group even rode a flight simulator!

After the museums, it was time to head to the airport.  We headed through security, got some lunch, and waited for our flight.  We had a little bit of turbulence on the ride home, but nothing bad.  We landed in Atlanta just before 4 p.m., and our families were there waiting to take us home.

I had a fantastic time on the trip, and am so glad that I got to go.  I want to thank all of the people who made this trip possible for the campers, from the counselors/chaperones to the nurses to the people who gave donations to Camp Sunshine.  Thank you so much!

Forever let the sun shine on!

Sarah

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30 Memories of Sunshine… Final Post!

We hope you have enjoyed reading the memories of campers, volunteers, parents and grandparents over the past 30 weeks leading up to Camp Sunshine’s 30th Anniversary Alumni and Volunteer Reunion this weekend. This week marks our final post in this series and celebrates several of our teen week campers.

My favorite memory is dancing [at summer camp] with Liz. I taught her how to do the Hoedown Throwdown and other dances.

– Katie Story

I remember my third year at camp my cabin – Cabin 8 – snuck into the Sunshine kitchen and stole Miss Ann’s bucket of ice cream. We ate it in the kitchen late at night, topped with M&M’s and chocolate syrup. Justin [Allmett] came in and our cabin mom scared him away. We had so much fun and laughed really hard!

– Savita Archer

My favorite memory is when all of my cabin was just about to settle in for the night and one of the boys cabins showed up outside. They told us to come out. When we were all outside, the boys started singing “Goodnight Sweetheart” to us.

– Tori Johnston

My best camp memory is when my cabin snuck out at night and went to the tennis courts. We decorated for the tennis tournament. It was crazy enough that a few of the guys snuck out of their cabin too so we decorated together.

-Miranda Matani

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30 Memories of Sunshine with Jdyka Wiggins

Eleven year old Jdyka “JJ” Wiggins was a brand new camper this year at Summer Camp’s Junior Week. Read on for her advice to campers heading to their first summer camp!

Hello, this is your first time going to camp? Well if it is you shouldn’t be scared. You can do a lot of stuff that you can’t do at home. Like be on the radio and bang on the table. It’s lots of fun. You might think Ugh, I’m going to meet people, but to be honest I was like that and it gets easier. But you shouldn’t think like that because there might be people with what [cancer] you have so you’re not alone. The way I say look at it is, WOW! I met someone just like me. Even some of the counselors had cancer. So they also get what you had to go through. You can go horseback riding, fishing, carnival, farm, pool, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboating, eat, learn magic, meet Georgia football players, do sports, cabin time. Now you will always have a grownup with you so you won’t ever be alone. Um you will get your medicine like usually.

Parents, don’t worry, they’re in good hands.

When I went fishing I caught one catfish and three brims. So maybe you can catch more. There’s a lot of stuff to do – fun stuff and fun stuff you learn.

HAVE FUN    BE HAPPY    BE NICE    BE CARING

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30 Memories of Sunshine with Abby Collins

Abby Collins is a 15 year old camper who has been involved with Camp Sunshine since 2010. Below is her favorite memory from her first year at summer camp!

My favorite memory of Camp Sunshine was my very first year at Camp. I was really nervous, but when I got there everyone just welcomed me like I had been there for years. Also, I enjoyed putting an article  in [The Daily Sunshine] camp newspaper and to be on the Teen Council. I was so excited when I found out I had made it! I really enjoyed the big screen on the green movie at camp.

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30 Memories of Sunshine with Emily Puckett

Emily Puckett is a 13 year old Camp Sunshine camper who began attending summer camp back in 2005 at age seven. Her favorite memory is from 2006, and is all about her best friend Katie.

My favorite memory is meeting my best friend Katie at Camp Sunshine when I was eight years old. I never thought we would even become friends, but today we are best friends and we talk to each other every day. We tell each other everything and when one of us has a problem, we try and help each other out. I’ll never have another friend like Katie. She is the best! I love her as though she is my sister.

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30 Memories of Sunshine – From Summer Camp!

For this week’s blog post, I thought I’d share with you some of the memories that our campers shared with us from Summer Camp. Campers were asked to complete the following sentence:

“While I was at camp, it was really cool when……..”

– I got to meet people going through the same thing.

– I became extremely close to all my friends there; I know they will be my best friends for a lifetime.

– I played harmonica for the talent show.

– The Army guy gave his patch to my friend.

– I found out I was special.

– I got to ride the horses and feed the animals on the farm.

– I won the tennis tournament!

– I got a hair do and makeup.

– I got to try zip lining for the first time!

– We got our awards (the entire cabin discusses and chooses for the individual camper, not just the counselors) and I could see what touching things my cabin mates actually thought about me.

– We got to climb the pamper pole and go to the best dance EVER.

– We go to play football with the Georgia Bulldogs.

– When we did the spirit checks in the dining hall.

– I climbed the rock wall three times in a row!

– I hit a bullseye at archery.

– We all came together as a Camp Sunshine family.

– I spent time with my friends and lived the life I would have if I had never been diagnosed.

– I wasn’t the only kid without hair and I wasn’t stared at!

 

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