Camp Sunshine stole my heart. This summer was my first time volunteering, and I can see why so many people return year after year. I know I will be from now on. It is an incredible environment filled with incredible people. It was touching how much work went into making these families happy. The volunteers were wonderful, the staff was appreciative and kind, and the families I will never forget. Camp Sunshine is such a special place. I think back to the week I spent there constantly and cannot, absolutely cannot!!, wait to go back. Camp Sunshine is like no other.
Last year was our first experience at Camp Sunshine! Before arriving we had no idea what to expect but just knew that this was our first getaway since treatment which totaled 3.5 years. Our only son was diagnosed at age 9 with a rare form of leukemia called Philadelphia + ALL. Like many, treatment was brutal, long, exhausting (mentally and physically) and we knew we desperately needed a break and to getaway! Once learning about Camp Sunshine we immediately applied and were accepted right away. We had no idea what we were in for. Once arriving to camp we were totally taken away...away from the sickness, away from stress, away from fear, away from the hospital and away from confinement. We were instead now at a place of serenity, fun, joy, peace, understanding and had our every need taken care of. We needed this more than words can express!! Camp Sunshine is a Camp filled with light and if you've never experienced this incredible place please trust me you will not regret it. This isn't camping in tents, eating outside over fire pits and worrying if big creatures will attack at night....this is a resort of sorts where you have a spacious family suite, 3 meals in the meal hall, parent time while your kids are enjoying a full camp experience with every outdoor and indoor activity you can think of, family time, entertainment every evening, parent discussion groups, sibling group and volunteers that are beyond exceptional that care for yours and you children's every need!!! I can't say enough. I thank you Camp Sunshine for not only bringing my family joy and peace but to all the families you service every year....we are forever grateful.
At the age of two our son Banning began complaining that his stomach was hurting. As new parents we immediately thought his stomach might have been upset and his discomfort would pass by the next day. As the next morning arrived, Banning woke up in severe pain and was curled up into a ball and crying in pain. This concerned us greatly and we raced Banning to his pediatrician to find answers. Leaving the office we were convinced the discomfort would pass and was an isolated incident. The days and months that passed saw Banning’s pain intensify and his discomfort was so great he was refusing to eat and drink. Without proper nutrition he began to lose weight. Working with our pediatrician we made appointment with specialists in the areas of gastroenterology and infectious disease to find answers. While the stomach pain continued Banning began to have fevers which would spike in a matter of minutes to an alarming 104.5. The fevers were unfazed by Tylenol and Ibuprofen and we were unable to reduce his temperature without a visit to the Emergency Room. Banning was also prone to becoming sick with frequent colds, ear infections and even a rare case of giardia (normally found in third world countries). While illness in children is common, Banning was unable to fight off the illnesses quickly and took weeks to recover from a simply cold.
The months that followed were some of the most difficult and stressful my husband and I have ever experienced. Banning was now averaging 4 doctor’s visits and two trips the Emergency Room each month. Still no answers to why he was experiencing these severe episodes of stomach pain and cyclical fevers every twenty one days. His Gastroenterologist performed an exploratory scope of Banning abdomen to determine if there were any abnormalities. The scope raised concerns in Banning’s pancreas and the specialists spoke with us about the possibility that our son may have Cystic Fibrosis or Schwachman Diamond Syndrome, both debilitating diseases which attack the body’s vital organs. Banning was immediately placed on Creon, a drug used in cystic fibrosis patients, to help absorb the nutrients of the food he was eating. As there are no generics available for this drug, the prescription costs exceeded $800.00 for a month supply. This was a financial strain on our family, but the cost was minimal in contrast to our son’s continued health.
The episodes of stomach pain continued, although less frequent in the months that followed. It became apparent that this illness would not be diagnosed without seeking the help of a pediatric specialist outside of Orlando. After many long hours of research we were directed to the University of Florida Shands Children’s Hospital Hematology and Oncology Department.
After a six week period in which Banning’s blood was drawn twice a week, we had collected data which lead to a diagnosis on neutropenia, an abnormal reading of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell whose function is to fight off infections by destroying bacteria). While this was encouraging and seemed to explain the frequent illnesses, it did not explain the frequent stomach pains Banning was continuing to experience. The Hematologist recommended we seek the guidance of the Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Shands.
We were placed under the care of Dr. Christopher Jolley, Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. Banning was given an MRI of the abdomen (pancreas) to determine if it was functioning properly with manipulation. Following these results it was determined that, in fact, Banning’s pancreas was not absorbing the nutrients of the food he was consuming and a diagnosis of pancreatic insufficiency was recorded.
We have been given a clinical diagnosis of Shwachman Diamond Syndrome. Immediately I contacted Camp Sunshine because we had heard of the SDS week. There we met families with similar stories to ours. Also, it was great to be able to connect with those families who "understood" our situation. Our family has made forever friends through Camp Sunshine. We cant say enough about Camp Sunshine's positive impact on our lives. We are forever grateful.
My family went to camp with my brother while he was sick and we have continued going to bereavement sessions since his passing. Recently my parents have become volunteers and I look forward to doing the same when I'm old enough. Camp is an amazing place that has done so much for my family, and I have made friendships with both the other teens and volunteers that will last a life time.
I have had the great pleasure of being involved with Camp Sunshine for the last 28 years. I first went to camp as a patient with my family in 1988 and the experience was so unbelievable, we went back for years as counselors. Everyone from the Drs. to the kitchen staff, Anna Gould, Mike Katz, etc...do an awesome job and treat everyone with respect and it makes you want to go back year after year. To see the difference between the first day families get there and the last night singing "That's what friends are for" is amazing and I hope to get back to volunteer again soon. Try volunteering just once and you will fall in love with Camp Sunshine!!
Camp Sunshine is spectacular, has a caring staff, amazing volunteers and was a wonderful experience for our family this summer. It was our first visit and we hope for many more. Here is our Millie with Meghan and Kim, two volunteers that made our week memorable.
Camp Sunshine is an amazing place for our family! It is a place filled with joy and happiness. Our children forget their illness and play with other kids that completely understand them. I get to be with parents and doctors that support me in our journey. Camp Sunshine is our home away from home!
I've volunteered at this amazing place the past two summers and based on my experience, I can easily say this is the greatest place in the world. People say Disney is the most magical place on earth, but spending just hours at Camp Sunshine, there is no question this place beats Disney. Camp Sunshine has changed my life as a volunteer, for the better, but the impact it has had on me, is because of the families it serves. These families who have struggled through the impossible challenges of having an extremely ill child, deserve every little and special aspect this place has to offer. It is truly a safe haven for parents, siblings, and most importantly patients.
Our family has been volunteering at this AMAZING place for families who have a child going through a life threatening disease since our son Carter turned 16 and could give back and volunteer as a counselor.
This camp is a respite for the whole family! Cancer truly impacts the entire family and this beautiful place in Maine understand how to bring love and support, fun, laughs and lots of entertainment for all campers!
Hands up Camp Sunshine:) You have cultivated a beautiful experience filled with hope and love - keep it up!!