September 2020 by Gracie Dixon

Whenever something monumental happens in someone’s life, they often look back at all the things that got them to that moment. This year was my senior year in High School, so of course I have been reminiscing about the past. There are days that changed my life forever – August 4, 2004 was the day I was diagnosed with cancer. And while I was only 2 years old, the memories and side effects from my treatment will stay with me for a lifetime. There have been wonderful days, too. I have been able to play a few sports, go to my prom, travel with my family, and attend high school football games with my friends. However, when I look back over my life, one place holds an incredibly special place in my heart. Camp Sunshine remains the most influential and joyful occasion each summer and it makes me smile just to think about it.

I have been going to camp-related activities since I was diagnosed at age two. My family reluctantly attended our first family camp only three months after my diagnosis. We quickly discovered how special this camp would be to our cancer journey when we met the other families, staff, and volunteers. Growing up in and out of a hospital can be hard. I became very aware of the things I could not do – whether it was because I was on treatment or my body just didn’t want to cooperate anymore. However, at camp, there was nothing I could not do! I was surrounded by people who understood my life and celebrated the little things that most people would take for granted. The constant support and encouragement to try new things (even when they were scary and really hard) made me excited to stretch and grow. And if I still couldn’t do something very well, my counselors gave me the courage to try again next year.

I will carry the relationships I have made at camp with me for the rest of my life. I can be myself at camp and I do not feel the need to compete or worry about what other people think about me. Sadly, we have lost many friends to cancer. I cannot imagine going through that without the friends I have made at camp. The fear of relapse and suffering from the ‘late effects’ of treatment are fears we all face, but we are able to lean on each other for support. While I understand this summer is unlike anything we have ever seen, the thought of missing my senior year at Camp Sunshine has been the most difficult adjustment to make due to COVID-19. Camp Sunshine is like another home to me, and I am so grateful for the memories and friends I’ve made.

Every summer while I am at camp, I try to spend time with my doctors and nurses outside of the hospital setting and really get to know them. By talking to them in a casual setting, it has helped me learn more about the medical field. This fall, I will attend the University of North Georgia to pursue a degree in nursing. I want to complete my BS in Nursing and return to Scottish Rite to serve patients and families. I would also like to continue my summer tradition with Camp Sunshine and return as a counselor. It is my greatest desire to know and help other kids through this journey… just like others did for me.

Looking back over the years, Camp Sunshine has always been a constant in my life. Camp has been the great equalizer against cancer. This disease takes away so much – security, independence, relationships, finances…. childhood. But Camp Sunshine is a place where I found friends and volunteers who knew exactly what I was going through. They provide support and love that creates safety, encouragement and belonging regardless of our diagnosis, ability, race or economic level. I know nursing school is going to be difficult. I have worked very hard to keep a strong GPA and prepare myself academically. The Camp Sunshine Scholarship would give me additional support to chase my dreams and help pay for college. I would be so grateful for the opportunity to represent Camp Sunshine as a scholarship recipient.