PERRYVILLE, Ky. — Kids Cancer Alliance held its annual summer camp for teens this month. Around 50 kids took part, with over 75 volunteers to help with medical needs and ensuring the kids had fun.
The nonprofit holds events for children with cancer and their families to give their lives a sense of normalcy.
Sonja Tucker, 17, was among those taking part in this year’s camp and has been attending the camps for the past 10 years.
“I was here at the very first sibling camp they ever had and I’ve always loved it,” said Tucker. “They always have such fun activities.”
In previous years, Kids Cancer Alliance has had camps specifically for children who have siblings with cancer. But this year that was combined with its other camp for kids who have battled cancer.
Tucker’s older brother, Paul James Tucker, was diagnosed with cancer when he was 10. She was five years old at the time and vividly recalls the day she was taken out of her kindergarten class after her family got the news.
“I walked into the room and you could just feel the energy change. And James was in the hospital bed and everybody, there was family gathered around and I could hear, like, sniffling, and I didn’t know even what was happening,” said Tucker. “I just ran and I gave him this big hug.”
Tucker’s brother battled leukemia for three and a half years and ultimately beat it.
“He’s here and I’m grateful for that every single day,” said Tucker.
Those years were tough for Tucker, who was dealing with several emotions and feelings for someone so young.
“I felt guilty that I was the sibling, and I wasn’t the one who had it, so I felt guilty for a really long time, but now I just embrace it,” said Tucker.
Meeting others at Camp Kids Cancer Alliance who have gone through something similar helped Tucker deal with those feelings.
“There’s nothing worse than when you’re in this situation and you think, ‘There’s nobody out there who understands what I’m going through,’ and then you come here and… you’re surrounded by people who know exactly what you’re going through,” said Tucker.
This is a feeling that Leah McComb, the program director for Kids Cancer Alliance, has heard from several campers.
“The thing that makes camp so special is because kids are with other kids that have been through the same experiences, so for the most part, a lot of times what we hear is like, ‘I don’t feel alone. I never realized that there were other people going through the same things that I was going through,’ because childhood cancer is really rare,” said McComb.
While at camp, kids have a variety of things to do.
“Both oncology patients and siblings get to come down and do all of the activities, you know, fishing, boating, arts and crafts, all that kind of thing,” said McComb. “It lets them not worry so much about the medical condition or what they’re facing and just focus on being a kid.”
The experience has been so positive for Tucker that she plans on coming back even if it’s not to be a camper.
“I cannot wait to be a counselor and be like, ‘Yeah, I know exactly what you guys, like, feel right now. I was in the same boat,’” said Tucker.
Tucker hopes that by sharing her story, she can help others going through a similar situation understand that they have support and are not alone.