How a week at camp made a difference for a young medulloblastoma patient

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hannah717.jpgBy Gaylene Meeson

We didn't hesitate to sign our daughter Hannah up for MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital's Camp Star Trails.

When we learned about the camp back in April, Hannah and I had just returned from a weekend at a camp outside Houston, so Hannah knew all about camp and she really wanted to go.  

A few months later, I began packing Hannah's things for camp. That's when it dawned on me that my 6-year-old daughter, who'd been diagnosed with anaplastic medulloblastoma in 2012, would be in someone else's care for six days.

Not only that, but Hannah had become scared and no longer wanted to go to camp. She didn't remember the previous camping trip at all.

Oh no. What had I done? I hated knowing that Hannah would be away from me. What if she soils her underwear? What if she doesn't like the food? What if she doesn't make any friends? All these questions were racing through my head as I tried to pack her bag for every scenario.

Arriving at Camp Star Trails
We arrived at the campgrounds, greeted by a dining hall full of cancer kids, their siblings and volunteers. It was like a sea of faces and noise, but we found the familiar faces of our MD Anderson nurse and child life specialists. After Hannah was registered and I had turned in her medicine, she was ready to meet the other kids in cabin 9.

Within minutes, Hannah was chatting away, showing everyone her stuffed toy parrot, Blu. I stepped back just to observe for a while. Suddenly, it was apparent to me that she was going to be just fine. I said goodbye, told her to have a great time and walked away.

Before I had even reached my car, the tears started pouring down my cheeks. My tears were not because I had left her. I knew she was in the most capable hands. They were not even because I didn't think she would manage. I was overwhelmed with relief and joy that Hannah was now well enough to attend camp for the first time ever after bravely battling medulloblastoma for 22 long months. What a milestone!

Making lasting memories
The next six days were radio silence, but I knew she was having a ball. Kids with cancer and their siblings have a bond like no other. Back at home in the Cayman Islands, Hannah is lonely because she can no longer attend school at MD Anderson, and her friends have moved on without her. But at camp, they are all in it together. They just get it.

I arrived at camp the following Saturday to the biggest smiles and loudest sounds of laughter. Hannah had had an absolute blast. The staff told me her giggles lit up the cabin.

Hannah talked about camp on the way back to Houston, how she had made new friends, that gold panning and the art barn were her favorites, and that she would like to go back next year.

Learning to let go
Letting go of your kids -- even for just six days -- is tough. It can be especially difficult when you've dealt with something like cancer.

But it could just be the one of the best things you ever do for them. For Hannah, it meant lasting memories and an opportunity to be just a kid. Camp Star Trails is just brilliant!

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