The KOA Care Camps Trust is committed to supporting organizations that serve children diagnosed with cancer.
One example is Children’s Oncology Services, Inc., of Chicago. It operates One Step Programs that provide children facing cancer an opportunity to bond with other pediatric cancer patients and survivors in a setting away from the hospital. According to COSI, the programs are structured to give campers hope, strength and understanding. The camps create a special, safe place where kids learn life lessons of friendship, support and perseverance.
COSI says 400 volunteers, including dozens of local doctors and nurses, support the One Step Programs. More than 11,000 campers have attended COSI programs since 1978.
Thomas and Sylvia Weber, owners of Chicago Northwest KOA, recently presented a $25,000 check to COSI on behalf of KOA Care Camps. Jeff Infusino, president of COSI, Hailey Danisewicz, COSI development director, and Darrel W. Perkins Jr., COSI director of programs, were on hand to accept the donation.
COSI shared this story written in April by PJ Beigh, a seventh grader who recently attended camp.
My One Step Story: Facing the black hole armed with a COSI group of friends
I’m a survivor. At least, that’s what I learned from my friends at COSI’s One Step Camp. And they are one of the big reasons I survived, no, thrived, as a cancer victim. They made me feel like a hero, like someone who has really accomplished something great. That’s how One Step Camp showed me how to deal with my miserable life-threatening disease – with fun, with bravery, with silliness, and with compassion. The campers and most of the counselors at One Step know what’s it’s like to be a kid with cancer. I’ve been to two summers of camp, a fall dude ranch where I conquered my fear of riding horses, a great weekend of family camp with my sister and parents, and a mind-blowing week in Park City, Utah, where I learned how to snowboard down a huge mountain. I became really close to people who had it much worse than I did. I got to know people who came close to dying, who lost limbs, and who lost parents to cancer. As a result, I will never be the same. I’m a much better person now having survived this disease surrounded by the people at One Step who care about me.
If you’ve never had cancer, maybe it’s hard to imagine what it’s like. Cancer feels like a black hole, sucking all the energy and happiness right out of a person. My sister is full of life, playing with friends, going to school, being normal. When I was sick with cancer, I felt nostalgic for the days when my stomach didn’t feel like it was spinning in a circle. Before I had it, all cancer meant to me was a disease that killed both of my grandparents. With cancer, you spend a lot of time home in bed, sick, and it feels like too long away from your friends. Boys my age don’t spend a lot of time talking on the phone. So it’s easy for them to forget me when I’m not in class. I take a bus to school, so it’s not like I can hang out with them after school. I was diagnosed with cancer around the end of the school year, and I missed most of those final days in school. My chemo went through summertime, right through my first two weeks in One Step Camp.
Friends and family bring happiness – and camp is the best of both. For a kid with cancer, camp is a great alternative to lying in a hospital bed with IV fluids dripping into your veins, or, lying in your own bed, hoping you won’t need to use the pink bucket the hospital sent home with you. A kid with cancer feels isolated from the “normal” world, because nobody I know (except the kids I met at One Step’s cancer camp) ever went through what I was going through the spring and summer of 2012. It’s hard to be normal when you’re just not normal.
To me, One Step is all about staying connected with friends and family, and with normal life. Now. But when I first heard about it, cancer camp was the last thing I’d ever want to do. It wasn’t me. But Darryl Perkins was my nurse at the hospital, and started telling me about the wars I’d have with flour bombs and then jumping in the lake. He told me some of the crazy stuff and cool things like boat day, where people with yachts take the kids out for the day on the lake. When I went to camp, I made friends with kids who were just like me – guys that were normal on the inside but bald and sickly looking on the outside. And there were girls, too. And dances, and camp songs, and fires with s’mores, and crazy games and karaoke. After I got through the worst of the sick times, I got up there on stage and acted crazy like everyone else. One Step has been life-changing for me. All of these great people I’ve met through One Step are my second family in life. And that is saying a lot. Thank you for helping sponsor COSI so more cancer kids can go to camp.