March 2020 - by Pushkar Saha

Being 8 years old, and still struggling to accept the fact that I went through treatment for a brain tumor, I was reluctant to step outside. I was shy and was ashamed of my past. I hated the fact that I had to wear a brace all the time and that my right leg was significantly weaker than my left side. I hated that I was not allowed to participate in everything a normal child could do. Then, my parents said they were going to send me to a summer camp, and I was definitely not excited about that. I had no idea what I was walking into that week.

As soon as I arrived at Camp Sunshine, I felt a different vibe and knew I was going to like this place. Every single person had a smile, and they made me feel right at home. That week was the best week of my life. All the fun activities and new friends you make you forget that all of us had cancer as a kid. That’s what makes Camp Sunshine special. I had a whole new set of brothers that could relate to me. We all went through something traumatic that no child should have to go through. We hadn’t even started living our life, and we had to fight cancer.

As I got older, I started to learn more about myself and my character. I believe it was the last junior week when my cabinmate, Kenny Stewart, passed away from his cancer. This was the first death I had come across from someone close to me at camp. The guy taught me how to catch a fish. Kenny’s death gave me a new perspective on life. I started looking at the other kids in camp and realized I was selfish. Some kids are undergoing treatment that has suffered so much more than me, but here I was being upset about having a weak leg. Some kids cannot even walk, who have lost limbs, and who are too weak to get up while I’m sitting here pouting. That’s when I realized that I needed to change my attitude towards things in life because I am lucky to be alive and given this second opportunity in life.

Camp Sunshine means so much to me as it is where I developed my personality and character. I went from being a shy, reserved kid to someone who loves meeting new people and making memories with my camp family. This change has taken its place in school as well. It gave me the courage to run for leadership positions and step out of my boundaries a little more. I’m so thankful for it. I am no longer afraid to tell people why I wear a brace and no longer have to lie to others about why I cannot do everything. Camp has taught me to embrace my past and make my experience with cancer something positive. My experience with cancer led me to this amazing organization where I have met some of the most influential people in my life. It has shaped me into the man I am today. I have so much love and respect for this camp.

I love my fellow campers and love going to activities with them. However, I’ve always been someone who enjoys talking with the counselors and staff a lot more. I felt more interested in engaging in conversations with them because it’s interesting to hear about how they got involved with camp and why they come back every summer. I’ve just liked hearing them talk and considering their experiences when making decisions. They give sound advice and love to listen to me talk about my life and my goals.

I had the confidence to pursue my passion for flying and look at me now. I am pursuing my dream of being an airline pilot by attending Auburn University, something I didn't see happening before if I'm being honest. As a college student right now, Camp has provided me with a scholarship that I’m using to help pay for tuition, and it’s been very helpful for reducing costs. I appreciate that Camp has a great scholarship team to help provide financial aid to us as we continue on our next journey in life. I also appreciate being allowed to attend Outward Bound the summer before college. Outward Bound pushed me to my limits and got me stepping out of my comfort zone. Doing that expedition with my fellow seniors and an amazing set of counselors helped me get through that challenge. I am so glad I got to attend because it is an experience that you remember forever. 

If I have to wrap this up, I would say Camp Sunshine has been one of the best things that I have come across in my life. This camp is so important to me, and I am forever thankful for everything Camp has done. The staff, the campers, the campgrounds, and everything else at camp is amazing. Small things like the singing Georgia Gold and activities like paddle-boarding leave these everlasting memories in my head. I have friends and counselors that I keep in touch with and love updating them with my life and hearing about theirs. I’ve enjoyed my years as a camper. It’s my turn now to show the next generations of campers just how special this Camp is. One short week turned into a big part of my life. Thank you, Camp Sunshine for guiding me on the right path and for helping me find my purpose in life.