How a Tour De Rock-funded camp is changing lives of kids with cancer
Published Friday, September 7, 2018 3:07PM PDT
Camp Goodtimes is a camp for kids with cancer and their families. But it is quickly evident that the camp isn’t about cancer, it's about connections.
It is about moments in time when a child can feel like they truly belong. Moments for families to re-establish relationships. Moments to recharge.
The Corrigal family has gone to Camp Goodtimes, a recreation program funded by the Canadian Cancer Society and the annual Tour De Rock ride, every summer since 2013.
That was the year Natalia, now nine years old, was diagnosed with cancer.
Camp was the break the Corrigals desperately needed.
“Everybody just gets to play and have fun and cancer gets forced to the back burner for a few days. It is just pure relief and decompression and lightness in your heart,” said Natalia’s mom, Christa Corrigal.
Usually it is play which gets forced to the backburner by cancer as hospital stays, doctor appointments and treatments take over family’s lives.
But at Camp Goodtimes everything is taken care of from medical support, to food, to activities.
That allows families to go back to being just moms, dads and kids enjoying their time together.
“It’s just the most beautiful thing because it brings hope alive and you have all the goodness in life even when you are facing something so dire and scary,” said Corrigal.
It is also an equalizer. Every family who goes to the camp is impacted by cancer, but other campers don’t necessarily know which child it is.
For the one with cancer, that can mean finally not being “different” from the other kids.
“At Camp Goodtimes everybody is just one group together,” said Natalia. “I think that’s pretty nice and cool and that I kind of just fit in.”
For the siblings, it can mean feeling just as important.
Natalia’s little sister,eight-year-old Annabel, loves being the centre of attention for her “host,” a volunteer assigned to each family to support, supervise and play.
“They play with us and have fun with us, and they do things we want to do, not what they want to do,” said Annabel.
It might sound like something so small, but it is huge for a child whose wants and needs, out of necessity, are pushed behind those of a sibling fighting cancer.
Annabel’s mom said seeing her youngest child flourish and grow in her sense of self-worth meant everything to her.
“That was something I was struggling so hard as a mom to give to her and portray to her because I had this horrible job that I had to put my whole self and then some into, and my husband too,” said Corrigal.
With her children being taken care of, safe and happy, camp was the first time since her daughter’s diagnosis that Corrigal was able to take a moment of alone time.
Time she desperately needed to process what they were going through and to feel her emotions.
“Without letting my kids witness it because I didn’t want to be a mess in front of my kids. It gave me a moment to have the courage, and the safety and the privacy to cope with some of my feelings and that was a gift for me because it gave me strength to keep going,” said Corrigal.
That first summer at camp, she also discovered a new support while out on a canoe on Loon Lake, enjoying the calm and serenity.
“That harmony to your soul when you’re in that position, with the sun shining down and the water, it was like it was sitting on a plate it was so clear and still,” recounted Corrigal.
“And gently glided beside me this beautiful lady, and I looked into her eyes, and she just knew,”
It was another mom whose child had cancer. Nothing needed to be explained. Everything was understood.
They have been there for each other ever since.
They both know that even after the treatment stops, after the last chemo dose, the battle never ends.
Everyday they hope the cancer will stay in remission and they worry about the long term after effects.
But for that one week each summer, at Camp Goodtimes, none of that matters.
It is just about moments. Moments to experience and savour.
Corrigal said it has given her family the most wonderful times in the world.
“It just creates a space where everything blooms, people individually, the children, the relationships, the marriages, the connections, the families, everything blooms.”