A camp in Cambria this weekend was filled with the traditional sounds of children’s laughter, cries of joy and cheers at various games. But when you look a little closer, this camp is unique. Camp “Reach for the Stars” is for children who had or currently have cancer and the families who are supporting them on their journey.
At age six, Claire Noland, San Luis Obispo, was diagnosed with stage 4 anaplastic large T-cell lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. As part of her grueling treatment, Claire has received months of high dose chemotherapy at Stanford. Noland has been in remission for nine months.
She proudly shared with KSBY that she is a camp veteran as this is her second time to attend. “I like the hotdogs the best,” Noland said while holding hands with her friend, Holyn Sylvester.
Sylvester, 12, is currently undergoing treatment for leukemia. Sylvester can relate to Noland as she has had high dose chemotherapy as well. She’s been in treatment for a very challenging 21 months with 9 more months to go.
This was her first camp “Reach for the Stars” experience. While the games and fun were great, it is the connections that rank at the top for Slyvester. “It was really fun meeting everyone,” she said when asked about a favorite part of the weekend.
The camp began 25 years ago as a day camp. It blossomed into a weekend-long retreat provided at no cost for San Luis Obispo County kids with cancer or who are in remission. It allows the children and their families the opportunity to experience a “traditional” camp.
The weekend at Camp Yeager in Cambria includes a variety of activities for the whole family including carnival, bounce houses, games, climbing wall, face painting, quilt giving, and craft making. There is even a “spa” where the parent or child can get away for an hour-long, restful massage.
Jack’s Helping Hand, a local non-profit, took over funding for the camp six years ago. Its founders, Paul and Bridget Ready, know all too well what these families are going through. In 2004, their son, Jack, died after a 3-year battle with a rare form of brain cancer.
Jack’s Helping Hand was created to assist children in the community with cancer who have unmet physical, mental and medical needs. This camp is just one of many ways the non-profit works to boost the quality of life for local families.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for families with children with cancer to come together, have fun and experience camp as a kid with other kids just like them,” said Bridget Ready on Sunday.
The Ready’s say it is the volunteers which make the camp all that it is today.
“After seeing these patients suffer all year long, I just want to give them a weekend where they can be kids and have fun,” said Nurse Practitioner Mary Mott Okimoto. She has volunteered at the camp for the last 9 years.
Dr. Jim Malone and his wife, Jessica, a nurse, volunteered for the weekend. They are also on the camp committee along with other founding members.
“We love it. It means so much to us. We get as much out of it as the families do,” said Anne Fontenot, RN. Fontenot is part of the SLO Oncology Nursing Society which helped to get the camp going 25 years ago. Many of the society members volunteer at the camp along with others in the community year after year.
There are still many challenges ahead for these families. But, for one special weekend at camp “Reach for the Stars”, they can relax, have fun and see first-hand how laughter can truly be the best medicine.