FRONT ROYAL, Va. (WDVM) — For many kids, summer time is winding down. But for about 100 kids, a very special camp is just getting under way.
At the non-profit Special Love’s Camp Fantastic, none of the crafts, songs, or even the camp-wide talent show would be possible without a team of doctors and nurses waiting in the wings of the 4-H Educational Center in Front Royal, Va. Camp Fantastic’s campers need a little more support than other kids, because many of them are fighting the toughest battles of their young lives: pediatric cancer.
“Camp Fantastic is a camp for kids with cancer who are either on treatment or 3 to 5 years off treatment,” said Tammy Jenkins, the camp’s medical coordinator and head nurse, who is a pediatric intensive care unit nurse outside of camp. “We try to focus on the acute children who are not able to go to other camps.”
Since the camp began 36 years ago, a team of doctors and nurses from the National Institutes of Health have been there to provide the medical support needed to let these campers to let loose and have fun, whether they’re cleaning up a simple scrape, or administering a round of chemotherapy. The location of the 4-H Education Center not only provides the space to put together what Jenkins described as a MASH unit, but the center is also handicap accessible, a necessity for the number of campers in wheelchairs or living with other disabilities.
“We can handle things like antibiotics, IV medicines, and if kids need blood products or other support, we can do that right here,” said Dr. Jack Shern, the camp’s medical director and a pediatric oncologist with the NIH. “So we bring a full clinic and infirmary down here.”
Staff say the camp has a powerful impact on not only the campers, who get a chance to spend time with other kids who truly understand their experience with the disease, but on them as well.
“It’s gratifying to see them support one another,” said Katie Craft, a pediatric nurse. “I have been able to see over the years several teenage girls come to camp wearing wigs, having never shown their bald heads as a result of chemotherapy of course, and then feel confident enough over the course of the week to take off their wigs, which are itchy in August.”