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What is R.O.C.K. Camp?

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By David & Lynn Roth, Florida

"It's cancer." Hearing those words for the first time changes your life. You are plunged through the looking glass; you enter a world you've never seen, and a place that no one would enter without necessity. "Normal" will be a memory, and youlearn to speak a whole new language with words such as neutrophil, neoplasm, and 11:22 translocation. Our son,David was barely nine years old in November when he was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma in his left fibula. Since that day, he has been hospitalized about half of the time. He has endured medical tests, surgeries, and eight sessions of intensive, multi-day chemotherapy. He has been unable to go to school or participate in kid activities. He has been taught at home. But he has had one week of being normal, an oasis right in the middle of it all.

It's called the American Cancer Society's R.O.C.K. Camp (Reaching Out to Cancer Kids). Florida is blessed to have our own hole-in-the-wall camp for our medically involved children, thanks to the generosity of many generous souls. David went for one week in June, with 149 other cancer kids. There is a full medical facility, staffed with pediatric oncologists and pediatric oncology nurses, so help was very close by if needed. Davd had been out of the hospital for only one week when he went to camp, leaving home for the very first time. After being given an individual VIP tour, he was excited to go. When asked our feelings about leaving him at camp for a week during cancer treatment, our simultaneous replies were: Mom: It's not so hard to leave him here; Dad: You have no idea!

R.O.C.K. Camp is a busy place: swimming, archery, canoeing, wood shop, crafts, performing arts, horseback riding "into the wilderness", campfires with marshmallows, cabin cheers, and silly songs. The camp-wide food fight involves painting with pudding, dousing with flour, rolling in cooked noodles, and some type of purple liquid. Nine-year-old heaven! Then fire hoses clean you off. You "do the Yellow Rumble", sing squashed toad songs, and play Silent Bear in your cabin, tossing home-made teddy bears to each other on your bunks. You learn to paddle a canoe and catch fish (which the counselors have to kiss before throwing them back). You create your own new drink (Cherry Blitz was the flavor of the week). You still take all of your medicines, but they are brought to you by a camp--dressed nurse carrying them in a tackle box.

At camp, you make friends with counselors and other children who understand this new world you've entered. You don't have to explain what you mean by port, chemo, or low ANC count. While you are allowed to be as loud, as wet, and as messy as you want, you also learn to make your bed (even a top bunk), by tucking the sheets under the corners. You learn to ask for and to offer help. You laugh. You forget you are fighting a life-threatening illness. Dad asks: Did you miss your parents? "Of course, but I didn't really have much time to." You chatter all the way home, and then you sleep for twelve hours straight. What was camp like? "It was a week of being away from home, having the most fun you've ever had in your life."

If indeed angels are friends who lift us up when our own wings have forgotten how to fly, the American Cancer Society's R.O.C.K. Camp is staffed with angels. What is a week of normal worth? You have no idea!

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