Life After Cancer

Chris Thomas, Camp Fantastic alum and Special Love volunteer…

Chris Thomas Earlier this month Special Love held its Reunion Weekend which has always been one of my favorite events. I’ve been part of the Special Love family for something like 27 years now and in that time I’ve seen a lot of folks pass through our organization. It’s good to see old friends, tell old stories, and re-live some of those sun-soaked summers from so long ago.

As much as I love Reunion Weekend for my own selfish reasons, my favorite part of it is the flood of survivors who trickle into camp that weekend dragging behind them confused children who can’t quite work out why mommy or daddy is so excited to be back at this “camp” place and why they’re expected to know all of these wacky songs. I love watching them meet the parents and kids still struggling through the hard months of radiation and intensification and the realization that, for this one weekend anyway, Special Love has campers aged 7 to 49.

But this weekend my thoughts were elsewhere, specifically with a little girl in Southwestern Virginia who’s just been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

Chris Thomas with a young child on his shouldersI’m lucky; my brush with cancer left me physically unscarred but I make no secret about that part of my identity. My car is festooned with SpecialLove magnets; I was super-excited to pick up one of the “Cure Childhood Cancer” licence plates, and I wear SpecialLove t-shirts to work in blatant violation of the dress code (not that anyone much cares). Long story short, it’s not unusual for me to be among the first to find out when a local kid is diagnosed with cancer. People think that’s the sort of thing I’d like to know about. People are right.

And so, amid the fun and family of 2016 reunion weekend my mind kept returning to that little girl in Roanoke in the midst of her most aggressive treatment. Here I was, surrounded by fellow survivors – the brothers and sisters in arms who stood by my side though my own fight with cancer – while she lay in a hospital bed alone. Camp is more than canoeing, dodge-ball, and pool-parties; it is the comfort of not being alone, in knowing that others have faced the same demons as you and prevailed. It is solidarity and strength and courage and hope for the future.

She needs to come to camp. Her parents need to. Her siblings need to.

Because there is life after cancer and a camp reunion is there to show it to us.