HOUSTON - A sense of normalcy! That's what young patients from the University of Texas MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital experience at summer camp. They've been finding fun ways to beat the heat at Camp Star Trails in neighboring Burton, Texas. This is the first time they get to experience this fun in the sun in several years because of COVID-19.
The camp provides plenty of special moments for children battling cancer, during the dog days of summer.
They got to have a splashing good time with their siblings and others who truly "get" what they're going through.
"Their true peers are individuals who have experienced similar circumstances," says Tomika Gamble, Program Manager for camps and special events in pediatrics for MD Anderson. "For them to come back after a pandemic and enjoy one another, it's tremendous! The outcomes were tremendous for them to be able to engage and just forget about the difficulties."
This camp touches Tomika's heart in more ways than one.
"I know first-hand the outcomes and what it does for the kids, because I had a child who battled cancer, and for him to be able to be out there!" says Tomika. "What we've noticed is that the kids transition from campers to counselors because they love it so much, it's just an amazing experience."
The kids get to do everything from creating crafty collections to stretching their courage and seeing just how far they can race up and then rappel a rock wall. Plus, a few squeals can always be heard along the zone of the zany zipline.
Camp wouldn't be camp without highlighting happy trails on horseback and they're also daring to dazzle on the delightful makeshift dance floor.
"The highlight for me honestly is their smiles. Just seeing them happy and dancing and just free. I think that's a big thing for them. We do a lot throughout the week, we keep them busy," says Tomika.
They even stretch their comfort zone by clinging to a camp classic in canoes.
"To see them push themselves and be able to just do it without fear - it's a testament of everything that they've been through and how strong they are, just to continue to push and push, no matter what it is that they're going through," says Tomika.
An entire medical team from the University of Texas MD Anderson Children's Cancer Center is on hand, for children with ongoing treatments, so every need is met. Then children can quickly get back to having a good time, all while doing their best to beat the heat!
"We're constantly telling our volunteers to make sure every person is hydrated, but the pool is a great opportunity to cool off," says Tomika. "We do our best to keep them healthy, happy, and as cool as possible in this Texas heat."
Smiles all around prove the efforts are a success!
"It's an opportunity for these kids to come out, no matter what their extenuating circumstances are, there are no limits at camp," says a smiling Tomika. "We just have a great time! I believe what they're feeling is a sense of normalcy. So, we're doing our part from the Support Programs team to just help them end cancer."
For more information on the summer camp, visit MD Anderson Cancer Center's website.