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Better together: Childhood cancer camps merge

By Mike Strizic

For more than 30 years, Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium have each provided life-changing and enriching programs for children affected by childhood cancer and their families. Both are privately funded and volunteer based. In September 2019, both camps announced a merger that became official on January 1, 2020.

The benefits of the merger include a stronger organization, a combined donor and supporter base, and a more sustainable financial structure. Importantly, the union will enable better support for families and bring more camp programs to more communities—including eight pediatric oncology centres across Ontario—as well as allowing more children and their families to attend overnight camps.

Friendship and fun

Both organizations have always emphasized friendship and fun. Camp Trillium offers recreational programs to bring children with cancer and their families together. It provides an environment that normalizes the relationships and experiences of families affected by childhood cancer, helping them in their healing process while enhancing their quality of life. Camp Ooch programs, by contrast, are just for children—providing kids affected by childhood cancer with unique opportunities for growth and healing through challenging, enriching, fun and magical experiences. Its overnight camp facility in Muskoka is the only one of its kind in Canada able to provide intravenous chemotherapy and blood transfusions onsite.

Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium can now deliver programming under one umbrella, throughout the whole year, across the province of Ontario—plus in-hospital programs at eight paediatric oncology centres, community programs at Ooch Downtown and elsewhere in Ontario, and overnight camping at Ooch Muskoka, Camp Trillium-Rainbow Lake, Waterford (Southwestern region), Camp Trillium-OuR Island and Wellington (Eastern region).

One-of-a-kind experiences are par for the course at Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium. Nothing illustrates this more than Erik’s story…

Erik’s story

Erik joined an overnight camp for the first time last summer. At 13, he had been off treatment for leukemia since 2013. Even so, injuries from a car accident meant his medical needs were complex and had stopped him from attending other camps.

Every night, Erik required 16 hours of intravenous nutrition and hydration through his central line, since he could not maintain healthy levels on his own. Supporting a camper in this way was a first for Ooch’s Med Shed team, and required an overnight nurse to support the hourly line checks.

Weeks before he attended camp, Erik and his family decided that he would not be able to go on his cabin’s canoe trip. Nevertheless, every day Erik would ask the Ooch nurses, “How are we going to do this when I’m on the trip?” Two days before his cabin companions were to leave on the excursion—without him—Erik’s eyes filled with tears and he asked the nurses that same question one more time. Their reply? “Let’s see what we can do.”

Creative solutions

The next day, nurses Andrea and Cailey brainstormed solutions, sought approval from the nursing director and, with a few viable options ready, called Erik’s family. They agreed to let him go on the outing. It was a big moment—the family couldn’t dream of taking Erik on a canoe expedition of their own.

But Erik went on the canoe trip and slept in a tent under the stars with his friends. It remains his favourite camp experience.

Mike Strizic is a communications officer at Camp Ooch. His work has appeared in The Walrus and The Globe and Mail.

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