Eight months ago, Becky B. was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare cancer that attacks bone and surrounding tissue. Since then, the 13-year-old’s life has centered around hospitals and painful treatment. The one bright spot has been the support of Chai Lifeline, whose volunteers and professionals have “adopted” the family, filling their lives with light during a very dark period.
This summer, Becky is going to Camp Simcha, Chai Lifeline’s overnight camp adventure for children with cancer and other life-threatening or chronic illnesses and disabilities. She can’t wait, and neither can her family.
“It’s always hard to let your kids go, and especially when you have a child who is sick. But at Camp Simcha, Becky will be able to forget about everything else and just be a kid again,” exulted Mimi, her mom. “I’m always as excited as she is.”
Becky’s eyes light up whenever Esti, her volunteer Big Sister, describes life at Camp Simcha. “I’m very excited about going into the pool in a wheelchair,” she says. Becky hasn’t been allowed to put weight on her leg since her diagnosis, and it’s been difficult physically and emotionally. As soon as she heard that her bunkmates included others also dealing with limited mobility and that her home for the Camp Simcha session would be a new, totally wheelchair-accessible cottage, she yelled, “I’m there!”
An innovative pool design and water submersible wheelchairs aren’t the only novelties in store for Becky. Every facility and activity is designed to change sick kids into children and teens who happen to have an illness. Becky can look forward to enjoying everything she loved before, from creative arts to campfires, fireworks and friendship.
“At first when I got sick, all my friends were texting and calling. After a while, though, they were involved in school and their lives…things that no longer included me,” Becky explained. “A lot of the time I feel really, really alone.”
Esti, a veteran Camp Simcha counselor and Chai Lifeline volunteer, knows that Becky will have the opportunity to make new friends who understand the challenges of living with illness. “No one feels sick at Camp Simcha because everyone is sick there. Talking about chemo or losing your hair or having to be in a wheelchair is like you and I talking about pizza. Nobody feels strange about it, and everyone’s gone through something like what you’re going through.”
Becky’s family is looking forward to the summer as much as Becky is. “We’ve never been apart since this started,” Mimi said hesitantly. “As much as I’m looking forward to not having to carry her up and down stairs, I can’t help but be nervous. On the other hand, this will be the first time in eight months that I will sleep through the night and have time for my husband and kids.” She noted that Becky’s brother and sister opted to skip their overnight camp session while Becky is at Camp Simcha in favor of a camping vacation.
“We’re going to miss Becky, but from what I hear from Esti, she’ll be having too much fun to miss us!” Turning serious, Mimi said, “You don’t realize how entrenched you are in this life of illness. This is giving us a chance to take a breath. When it’s over, and Becky comes home, we’ll be ready to get into the cancer world again.”