For the last 10 years, twice a year, I have volunteered my time to the Bluebonnet Retreat Cancer Camp.  This is a camp that focuses on, not the disease of cancer itself, but the fellowship of surviving and thriving through this diagnosis.  It is a time for the campers to be with people/counselors who understand exactly what they are going through, who can offer suggestions, a listening ear and a shoulder of support or just to cry on.  There is also hope offered for beyond the illness, beyond the uncertainty, and beyond the mind-numbingness called Cancer.

The weekend is devoted to the camper who has been diagnosed with cancer within the last 5 years.  All cancer types are welcome in any stage of their treatment – from newly diagnosed to remission.  The only restriction in attending camp is the camper must be able to take care of themselves.  The counselors are cancer survivors and volunteers as well and as such are not licensed as care-givers, but are there for companionship.  The camper can do everything or nothing that is planned.  They can create their own schedule and activities (if available) if they would like.  The weekend is provided to those selected to attend for free.

My life has been profoundly changed by volunteering at this camp.  I do not have, nor have I ever had, cancer.  Very recently (within the last year), an uncle was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, but before that, no one in my immediate family had ever been diagnosed.  I work at the hospital that sponsors this camp, but I am nothing more and I have never been, anything more than a glorified administrative assistant.  The thought of spending any time on or near the Oncology treatment rooms makes me wish I wasn’t employed by a hospital.

The people who attend this camp are some of the strongest men and women I have ever known.  Lifetime friendships have formed at this camp that carries a common theme among the attendees.   The fact that they have welcomed me with open arms into their circle when it’s impossible for me to relate to their struggles on a personal level just goes to show how awesome the group is.  I have celebrated with them the news of weddings, child-birth, graduations, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  I have also bawled with them when news reaches us that another friend has been taken by this disease way to early in their life.

So… exactly did I get involved in this worthy cause?  Good question!  I was volunteered to volunteer to be the craft director by my then boss.  She still pats herself on the back for having the “insight” to suggest me as the replacement.

I remember my first camp like it was yesterday – I was a bundle of nerves.  I didn’t want to disappoint the campers with a lousy craft during what is supposed to be an uplifting weekend.  We had decided the craft would be decorating bird houses and I had spent months gathering up supplies.  80 people would be converging on my craft room during 2 different sessions (40 in the morning and 40 in the afternoon).  I was warned ahead of time that the afternoon group was always shafted with not enough supplies. 

I was ready!

No I wasn’t.

I wasn’t smart enough to realize that 80 people would all want a fake bird, or more likely a family of birds, to mount on their houses – the 24-36 I had bought weren’t nearly enough.  I wasn’t intuitive enough to know that one camper in particular was a little off color (God rest her soul) – and that I would be asked to provide a bird “poop” prop for her birdhouse creation.  This same camper would bring to later camps spent gun shell cartridges to create “A Cartridge in a Pear Tree” wreath, make a pet rock instead of a stepping stone, and a pinewood derby car made out of horse-turds.  I found out after she passed away, most of her assets were donated to our camp for other to have as much fun as she always had – specifically with the crafts.

As the years have passed, so has my shock to the off-the-wall requests I receive from the campers to create their creations.  I have become quite good at suggesting alternatives to wacky ideas.  I have bit my tongue at hideous creations and have become creative myself in all manner of ways to always praise the end result.  I have dug up rocks and dirt in the courtyards, scoured the camp grounds for twigs, mixed up different colors of paint to get that just right shade, and burned my fingers on hot glue more times than I can count.  I usually come home covered in paint, glue, and glitter – exhausted but fulfilled.

Even with everything I have gained by volunteering at this camp, I can’t help but feel it is time for me to hand the reins over to someone else.  I have lost my internal drive to make sure the crafts are the best they can be.  I still WANT it to be the best, but I can’t seem to muster up the energy to make sure it happens.  The campers deserve better than my half-hearted attempt that I gave them this weekend.