As a follow up to last night’s post, tonight’s is about the single best thing to come out of Childhood Cancer coming to our house, Camp Smile a Mile. After we enjoyed the day at the circus, one of the many fun outings they provide for families, we became curious about camp. So, we decided to go to Family Camp weekend and see what it was all about. It has provided us with some of the dearest friends of our lives, that we would have never known otherwise: and it remains, the brightest star in the dark sky of Childhood Cancer.

Camp SAM 060May 17, 2009-CBJ

Respite (res’pit) n.-A short interval of rest or relief

Can an empty bottle of Spray n’ Wash be an indicator of happiness? It can at this house where many of the clothes that came back from Camp Smile a Mile, were utterly ruined. After many sprayings and washings, many formerly “good” shirts have been relegated to that graveyard of the clothing world, the play clothes drawer.

How do I try to sum up Camp SAM? The boys were nervous about going, but as soon as they saw the pool, the lake, the volleyball and basketball courts, the boats, they exploded out of my van in three different directions and were rarely seen again. They each had their own counselor whose only job was to help them do whatever they wanted for the weekend. At Camp Sam no one looks twice at a kid with a bald head or an accessed port. You aren’t “that kid with cancer”, or “that kid whose brother has cancer”; just a kid for a while.

They take your child’s medicine from you when you get there. They have a medical staff and they do everything. Several of our 4 Tower nurses were volunteering their time there. They handled it all. They just let us be Moms and Dads for a while.

The kids stay busy from dawn (really) to dark and they don’t have time for you anyway, so you have time to just be. I enjoyed meeting the other parents. We did talk “shop” some, but about other things too. We had massages on a screened-in porch while listening to the rain and the distant sound of our children playing. We read, painted, took boat rides, napped, or just did nothing for the first time in months.

It was so relaxing and joyful that you could almost forget why you were there. Almost. On Saturday, a group of us were sitting around talking, and I happened to glance over at a man I met whose daughter is just starting Consolidation. He was looking at her with an expression of such naked sorrow that I was ashamed to see it, so utterly was he exposed before me. It was then I remembered the terrible price we pay for this free camp. It can only make it go away for a little while, but sometimes a little while is enough to get you through.

My most special memory of camp was on Sunday morning. I got up a little bit early and walked over to the “Happy Camper Garden”. It is a lovely spot on a point, overlooking the lake. It is a garden and in it, granite markers with the names of the “happy campers” who came to camp, but have now gone where children go when they don’t have to suffer anymore. There are markers from the 1990’s up to 2008, and spaces for where more names will inevitably go. When I come back next year, there will be names on there that I will know. I will instantly be able to call up a sweet face to go with them.

There is a swing there, bearing a small plaque saying that it was dedicated in memory of someone who was “a friend to Camp SAM”, someone who has helped me and my family in some way I suppose. I sat down for a while and just enjoyed the morning, foggy and overcast as it was. A V-formation of geese passed overhead, though whether coming or going, I cannot say. Instead of feeling sad for the kids that are gone, I felt glad that they had had some fun days in the sun, in this beautiful place. They had done all the same fun things my children got to do and got to forget about it all for awhile. I felt in some odd way that we are all connected, all part of some great whole, that the echoes of their lives are still present here. It was a comfort somehow.

If you are interested in knowing more about Camp Smile-A-Mile, Alabama’s only camp for kids with cancer, visit:

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