News 12 at 6 o'clock, July 12, 2010
RUTLEDGE, Ga.---For many of the kids, it's the most exciting week of their whole year. Its a chance to be a normal kid for just a few days.
We're talking about Camp Rainbow, a camp through MCG's Children Medical Center for children with cancer or rare blood disorders.
News 12 takes you behind the scenes for Camp Rainbow's 25th Birthday and shows you how you can help these kids keep smiling.
It's first thing in the morning and you can hear children banging and clapping their hands. Brace yourself, it's breakfast time at Camp Rainbow.
"Whoo!" Yell some campers on a nearby paddle-boat.
From outside to inside, the camp is always buzzing.
"You get to do a lot of activities with a lot of sports and stuff that you don't really get to do back home," says camper Tommy Gresham.
"We allow them to have all the fun they can have," says Dr Roger Vega, the Chief for the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology division at MCG.
And fun is just what the doctor ordered. "This is a place where we really can put these children first and I think that is the best medicine," says MCG Nurse Practitioner Beth Fisher.
It's a child's dream camp. A camp with tons of fun things to do. "We won! This is for you mama. We won!" Yells one camper.
But this is not your ordinary summer camp. Camp Rainbow is for tough kids ages 4 to 16 fighting cancer or other rare blood diseases.
"You don't see them as a child that's sick anymore, you see them as a child that's living their childhood and getting to have fun like every other child in the world that doesn't suffer from an illness," says Leanna.
"In the hospital environment with a diagnosis of cancer, you don't have much control you don't get to decide when you get your chemotherapy when you want to come in to the hospital," says Kym.
It's just a few days to be a kid and forget.
"It's really for the kids. When they come to camp they're entirely different. They're completely uninhabited. They're not patients, they're children," says Beth.
"It brings some normality to their lives," adds Dr. Vega.
"When you get cancer, you can't really do much of nothing. But when you get here you can just jump up and down and stuff and act like you don't even have it anymore," explains camper Noah Rhoden, in his 4th year at the camp.
Kym Allen is the Director of the camp and Manager of Child and Adolescent Life Services at MCG. She's helping the camp celebrate it's 25th birthday.
"Our goal is to let kids be kids-- forget about cancer, let kids be kids," says Kym.
"It's a place where bald is beautiful and where you're never alone."
"Whenever we like meet new friends and everything they like say they had cancer so it's fun because you ain't like left out," says Tommy.
The camp is truly a kid's dream, with activities every where you look. There's something for everyone.
"The different activities arts and crafts, tennis, swimming and riding the horses," says camper Markeisha Gibbons, in her 10th year at the camp.
And of course, what's a summer camp without pranks? "I woke up one morning with my fingernails and toenails painted," adds Noah.
Camp Rainbow is not just for children in recovery, the camp is specially designed for kids still receiving treatment.
"We have very fragile patients and the fact that they can get ill at any time, we have a very experienced group of nurses and physicians who provide immediate care to our kids," says Dr. Vega.
"I'm in charge of fixing boo boos, giving them all their meds. We do meds four times a day," says Camp Nurse Leanna Carswell.
The camp does spend one night looking back, and talking about the deadly disease. "We have a remembrance ceremony on the first night and we celebrate the lives of all the kids that have lost their battle with cancer in the previous year," says Kym.
But for resilient kids like these, doctors say cancer is definitely not a death sentence.
"The word cancer equates to death. In children that is a big misunderstanding. More than 85 percent of all children who develop cancer survive," explains Dr. Vega.
Doctors say the kids just spending time together, is better than any medicine out there.
"For them to see other kids making it and other kids being healthy and back to normality..it's an inspiration," says Dr. Vega.
"It's a kid that has cancer, not cancer having a kid," says Kym.
"Never give up and keep on going," adds Noah. A priceless lesson, these campers will never forget.
Fifty-one weeks out of the year Dr. Roger Vega a doctor but this week, he's a kid too.
"We see a transformation. We see kids that were always afraid because they saw me with a white shirt with my tie, always talking business...All of a sudden that big figure of doctor disappears," says Dr. Vega.
It's a form of medicine they say you simply can't get from a needle.
"It takes us out of that hospital setting and they know we're real people," says Beth.
"They have really friendly counselors and they will take care of you," adds Markeisha.
"When they see me as a human being, as the person that has the ability to provide them care, trust and friendship. I think that that's the formula. That's the formula for success," says Dr. Vega.
"I think it gets kids to see that we're all in this together and we're a team and we're helping fight cancer as a team," explains Kym.
But this camp couldn't be possible without you.
"The community funds Camp Rainbow. We take donations and that's how we make this possible. It's quite an expensive venture, but you know just to walking onto the campsite it's about $30,000 dollars. It's an expensive process but it's very well worth it," says Kym.
Worth every penny to see smiles like these.
This year the camp had eighty-five campers and you can bet they are already planning next year's event. Camp Rainbow takes place at Camp Twin Lakes just outside of Atlanta in Rutledge, Georgia. It's a special facility that works with programs for kids who suffer all kinds of serious illnesses or life challenges.
Don't forget, this is all made possible by your donations.