Ben Sockel

In 2015, bone cancer took me down as an unstoppable 13-year old. Camp Sunshine built me back up to have confidence, but this time with compassion.

Before my first summer at Camp Sunshine, getting cancer had me feel entitled. I expected pity and gifts from just about everyone; I thought I could get away with anything. I bullied my older sister because I was insecure with how cancer made me look. I couldn’t believe I lost my hair--a big source of pride. I wouldn’t be able to run or play Ultimate Frisbee any longer. No one else had it as bad as me.

Yet, just one day at Camp Sunshine had me learn I was blessed. Coming into it, I was chemo ridden and about to have my tibia removed. Honestly, my parents forced me to go to, and I secretly hoped it would be my first and last time at this camp, wanting to avoid such a sad environment. However, it was the opposite! Seeing and meeting all these beautiful people that, when it comes down to it, you have a HUGE common bond with all of them - they actually look at you “on the inside” because we’ve all shared the cancer experience. I saw that there were so many kids who had it way worse than me, but they were still participating in the activities. I realized my entitled attitude towards others had been horrible. This experience opened me up; that I can be special in a good way and be a source of inspiration and education to others. It was this experience that had me returning to Camp Sunshine every year and looking forward to contributing as a counselor in the future.

As I entered another new environment as a freshman at Grady High, I had to find my way. Even in the heat of August, I would wear long pants because I didn’t want people to see my huge, leg scar and think I was different. It was after the Spring Teen retreat at Camp Sunshine that I started to wear shorts and only shorts. I realized that I loved being different, and that my scar was a conversation starter, something that could actually help me make friends! Students would ask me about my long, crooked scar. I could understand their curiosity. Because of my feeling of community at Camp Sunshine, I shared my journey with osteosarcoma and how while it left me with a huge scar, I was lucky enough to have my life. I’d also warn the athletes that playing sports through intense pain, like I did initially, was not smart and you should always see a doctor when it gets bad which thankfully I did.

My confidence from Camp Sunshine had me comfortable with myself; I made many of my first real relationships at Grady and returned to Ultimate Frisbee. At Grady, the Ultimate Team was nationally ranked. Since I could no longer run, I didn’t think that I could contribute. With my father's encouragement, I approached the coaches and we created the position of Coach Assistant! I helped with drills, plays, kept statistics on the players, and cheered from the sidelines. I have held this position for three years and through Ultimate have made some of my best friends and found a different way to stay involved with this great sport. It was awesome for us to win the National Championship 2017 and to know that I was a part of that team.

My point in bringing all of this up is really just to say that I’ve been given a second chance. To make my life not just about me, but about helping others laugh and smile and make memories. I try to be the light in everyone who I consider a friend. I’ve gained morals yet I can’t take credit for coming to these lessons alone. I thank you guys, you friends, your volunteering to make some kid’s weekend or summer, one to rewrite. And that’s what second chances are all about really.

I’m taking this second chance to Florida State University this Fall where I am in the International Program and plan to study business my first year in Spain. I expect to learn more about marketing so that I can seek a position in sales after college. The support and confidence I’ve received from Camp Sunshine has remained with me throughout high school. As I meet new people in Spain and at FSU, I plan to see them for who they are and not what they may look like on the outside. And to all, I intend to be that light of hope and gratitude that I’ve been taught so well over the last five years at Camp Sunshine.