Have you heard of KOA Care Camps?
KOA Care Camps was new to me until recently, but it hit close to home. I'm the mom of a cancer survivor and I'm proud to partner with KOA to raise awareness for a cause that helps kids with cancer.
Here's my family's story, KOA Care Camps basics, and some easy ways you can support this cause.
Our Cancer Story
My son was 5 years old when he was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma just before Thanksgiving 2012.
It's such a rare diagnosis that it took two surgeries and three weeks in the hospital to figure out why his stomach hurt him so much. Doctors first removed his appendix and then thought that the continuing symptoms were a common side effect of the surgery. A second surgery found a golf-ball sized tumor inside his small intestine.
Six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy followed. My son's diagnosis and treatment lasted about six months, and then he was blessed to return to a normal life with good health. He is now 12 years old.
Cancer is hard on the whole family. My daughter was 8 years old when her brother had cancer. She moved in with my parents for weeks at a time and wasn't allowed at the hospital during flu season. She often felt ignored.
Though brief, cancer was a defining experience for our family. We are cancer survivors, and have special sympathy for families who cope with childhood cancer.
Other kids and their families battle cancer for much longer, with lifelong health challenges for many survivors. Cancer robs them of normal childhoods filled with friends and fun activities like summer camp.
What is a KOA Care Camp?
Having cancer shouldn’t mean giving up the joys of childhood. That’s why the KOA Campground Owners Association created the Care Camps Trust – to help children who have or have had cancer experience a sleep-away camp where they can focus on fun, friends and activities instead of on their illness.
For more than 30 years, KOA Care Camps has raised funds to help send children with cancer to KOA Care Camps across North America. KOA Campground Owners Association created KOA Care Camps Trust which distributes over $1 million annually to camps so these special kids can experience a fun place where they really fit in. Learn more at www.koacarecamps.org.
The Big Weekend
The Big Weekend is an easy way to support KOA Care Camps – and get a fun weekend of camping with your family. This annual event offers campers to stay one night at a participating campground and receive the following night for $20. The $20 goes towards Care Camps.
The Big Weekend helps 125+ specialized, medically-equipped facilities offer a true summer camp experience to kids currently undergoing treatment or recovering from cancer.
The Big Weekend occurred May 10-11 in 2019. Watch KOA.com in the spring to find out when The Big Weekend is scheduled for 2020 and beyond.
Ways to Donate
Going camping at a KOA campground during The Big Weekend is a great way to support KOA Care Camps.
You can also donate online. Donate directly at https://koa.com/
Finally, look for souvenirs and other donation opportunities when you camp at a KOA campground. When we recently stayed at KOA Santa Cruz-Monterey in California, I noticed some cute beaded bracelets for sale in the General Store. Proceeds from those bracelets went directly to KOA Care Camps.
Related: Our Review of KOA Santa Cruz-Monterey
How to Attend a Care Camp
KOA Care Camps are not held at KOA Campgrounds. Instead, KOA Care Camps supports specialized, medically-equipped camps across North America. These camps are independently owned and operated.
Visit www.koacarecamps.org to learn more. Click on the Camps We Support option under the About Us tab to link to an interactive map. Green smiley faces show the locations of KOA Care Camps.
If you are connected with a cancer moms group on Facebook, or a similar group in your area, they will probably know about local camps for cancer kids. Social workers at your hospital will probably also have information.
Camp Hobe is the KOA Care Camp in my home state of Utah. It serves children with cancer from Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada, and any other child treated at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City. My fellow Utah cancer moms have nothing but good things to say about Camp Hobe.
One thing I LOVE about Camp Hobe is that it's not just for cancer kids. Siblings are invited too. This is a big deal because siblings often feel ignored and miss opportunities while so much time, money and energy is focused on the child with cancer.
My kids never attended Camp Hobe. The dates didn't work for us in the summer after my son's diagnosis and treatment. By the next year, he was lucky to not think of himself as a cancer kid any more. Now that my kids are getting into their teens, they can volunteer at Camp Hobe and I hope they will!
Cancer sucks, but organizations like KOA Care Camps make it a little better for kids with cancer and their siblings. If your family enjoys camping, watch for dates for KOA's next Big Weekend. Look for other opportunities to support KOA Care Camps at KOA campgrounds. Or, donate online.
If you know a child with cancer, visit the KOA Care Camps website to locate a camp, or ask around in your community of cancer families or at your hospital.
My son's oncologist told us several times that we were saving my son's life so that he could get out and live it. KOA Care Camps helps kids with cancer get out and enjoy the childhoods they deserve, one summer camp at a time.
For more information on KOA Care Camps, visit https://koacarecamps.