I am blessed to say Camp Sunshine has been an integral part of my life for 23 years. I was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma at nine years old, and to say I love camp would be an understatement. As a child, I distinctly remember sitting in my inpatient room at Scottish Rite during one of many chemo sessions, and my Child Life Specialist came to check on me and bring me a Sunny Daze yearbook from 1999. While I was intently focused on looking at every single photo of campers and volunteers having a blast, my specialist was telling my parents all about Camp Sunshine. That visit was followed by many more conversations around the topic – not just from my Child Life Specialist – but from my doctor and surgeon and nurses – all of whom knew that if I went to camp, I would love it and joining the sunshine family would change my life for the better.
To my excitement, the very next summer my parents dropped me off at the bus so I could attend camp for the first time. As a kid, I knew I would have fun, but I had no idea that the true impact of that first summer would last much, much longer than one week. Having quickly become used to hospital walls, lab appointments, and homeschooling being my new normal, that one week in 2001 shifted my perspective on what life could look like. I wanted to give back. I wanted to bring my love of camp with me into adulthood.
Since that first summer as a camper, I have had the opportunity to support Camp Sunshine as an office intern, program staff member, and now as a volunteer of six years. Throughout the years, I have watched children's faces light up while they fly on the zipline. I have witnessed parents breathe deep sighs of relief in a room surrounded by others who are intimately familiar with the strain that comes with cancer during Remember the Sunshine Parent Nights. And I have seen entire families beam with joy as they participate in camp chants during family camp weekends. There is no better feeling than being able to play a small role in helping families experience what I know firsthand are life-changing moments at camp. Having a front row seat to the wonder that is Camp Sunshine touches the soul in a way that is inspiring, incredibly humbling, and one of the reasons why I love being a volunteer.
If I had the opportunity to share a moment with a family thinking about trying a Camp Sunshine program for the first time, I would tell them exactly what my Child Life Specialist told my family over 20 years ago – You will be welcomed into a new family that you will love and it will change your life for the better.
- Whitney, former camper and current volunteer