Written by Angela Bickmann, 2013 Camp Fantastic Camper
Camp Fantastic 2013, my last year at camp…as a CAMPER!!! There is no doubt or question in my mind whether or not I’ll come back as a counselor, even though I’ll be moving across the country.
I’ve been coming here since 2011. Bald, and weak yet strong, I came to camp without my wig, knowing that it would be a place where I could show my true colors and people would understand. I had just finished my chemo treatment, so it wasn’t the year with the most fun but it was definitely the most important. It built up my self-confidence and filled my heart with love that I had been missing during treatment. While everyone was getting face-paintings, I decided why not paint my bald head? I picked out a beautiful blue flower that covered the whole top of my head. I told my counselor at the time, Angela, about this joke how if we painted a face on the back of my head I could say ‘I have eyes on the back of my head’. So she drew just that. Later I went to the infirmary and laid down on a white pillow because I wasn’t feeling well. I got up from resting; my nurse came back and showed me the pillow case. It had the imprint of the face on the back of my head! I signed the pillow and they hung it up on the wall. Leaving camp turned out to be more emotional than I thought it would… I had to leave this place where people understood, and not once did I have to explain why I looked or felt the way I did. When I got back home and went to my new school where no one knew about me, I felt guilt walking through the hallways and making “friends” in class. Wearing a wig made me feel like I was forming fake relationships with people. At night it haunted me, I couldn’t sleep. One night, it just hit me, I couldn’t do this anymore. But I had to…for one more day, not a day more. It was Friday and I met with my counselor and told her. Monday we went around to each class of mine and I stood there in front of everyone and told them why my hair was a quarter of an inch long.
I had seen some survivors at camp with tattoos, and I knew I had to get one. I thought for a whole year, exactly where and what I wanted. It’s an awareness ribbon on the back of my neck with survivor written down half my spine. Camp Fantastic (Special Love) has touched my heart with a kind of love I’ve never felt before. So as the dot of the ‘i’ I got the red Special Love heart tattooed there. One day I was doodling in class and I found out the ‘V’ and ‘O’ could make an awareness ribbon written vertically. Each detail and placement of my tattoo has a meaning, and I came up with it all by myself!
Now…for the very, very sad part; as mentioned above, this is my last year as a camper. I’ve noticed myself this year becoming more and more like a counselor. I help and give advice to the younger campers, especially the girls who are bald or have short hair, because in the moment my heart really feels for their weaknesses. I see myself in them looking for the help I once needed. I’m usually not one to reach out to people, but in this case I do and it feels amazing to give back. Besides cancer, everyone has a list of other things they had to go through. With me though, a lot of things happened around my time of cancer. Going through it without having a mom, not being able to see my dad because my stepmom and him divorced, moving, and living in an apartment sharing a room with three brothers, and much more. Yeah, not the best time, sometimes I can’t believe how that little spark of hope that was flickering and almost dimmed out is what saved me. Everything has a reason, and I know my reason has got to be something big and inspiring. I love writing, and hope that reason will be to write a book and maybe have it turned into a movie one day. But for now, my reason is camp. You’re definitely missing out if you haven’t been here. I don’t think I could ever meet more helpful, loving, and inspiring people anywhere else life takes me. This will definitely be the toughest, most emotional “See ya later” I’ve ever had to say. But I don’t have to say it just yet (: So, greetings from camp! If you’re reading this, you’re probably not here, and FOR SURE you are missing out!
Love, Angela Rose Bickmann (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor)
(Left) Angela, 2011
(Right) Angela, 2013