Summer Intern on Volunteering at Camp Fantastic
, by Frank J. Colón-Matos, B.S.
Everything started when my mentor, Diana Withrow, Ph.D., told me about Camp Fantastic, an annual camp for children with cancer. I knew that I wanted to volunteer because I am a survivor of childhood leukemia, but I was also hesitant because I’ve never participated in anything like it. To get a better sense of what the camp would be like, I browsed through different videos and pictures from previous years and it became clear what Camp Fantastic is: a place where, despite their diagnosis, every kid can just be a kid.
In one week, I saw how the experience of Camp Fantastic allowed campers to forget about their cancer and the limits it places on them and just enjoy their time together. Even the kids in wheelchairs were able to join in the dancing, singing, swimming, and all the other activities of the camp. Everyone at the camp—staff and kids alike—made sure that everyone felt included.
I made many new friends of all ages: one 11-year-old camper was very interested in learning Spanish, and since I am from Puerto Rico, I helped him learn some new words. Another camper had a lot of fun doing my make-up and painting my nails in the “Glamour Class.” It was so gratifying to hear the sincere thanks from two of my campers at the end of the week: they were grateful we had become friends and that I could really share their experience from having my own.
I was also surprised by the organization of the camp. It is difficult to run a camp for cancer patients: they take many medications and all of them have different conditions. But the medical staff did a great job in paying careful attention to each of the campers’ needs. On top of the excellent medical attention, I saw each staff member do their best to make these kids smile and forget the pain and sadness that can come with cancer. At Camp Fantastic, campers get to celebrate their life.
As a first-time volunteer, cancer survivor, and cancer researcher, my experience was incredible. I am grateful to have had this opportunity because it has reignited my commitment to research dedicated to improving the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors. I encourage every researcher to participate in activities like this to stay connected to the lived experience of cancer and to better understand the needs of survivors. I hope to participate again in this incredible camp next year.