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Camp Periwinkle: The power of connection

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Camp Periwinkle: The power of connection
PHOTO: Allen Kramer

Camp PeriwinkleThe Periwinkle Foundation’s signature program – is a weeklong summer camp for children with cancer and their siblings dedicated to offering them a safe space for adventure, friendship, personal growth and healing.

It’s all about focusing on what these children can do instead of the other way around. We don’t dwell on limitation.

The campers are surrounded by other people impacted by cancer in some way, so there’s a mutual sense of understanding and empathy. There are no stares, no questions – just acceptance.

I’ve seen a camper crawl out of their wheelchair to climb a wall on the ropes course. I’ve seen a camper – fresh out of brain surgery – lean on their crutches to dance.

Camp Periwinkle’s programs are considered universal; meaning our campers can conquer nearly every activity and brag about their accomplishments once they get home.

It’s not uncommon to encounter children who lost their hair from chemotherapy or lost/gained weight as a side effect of medication. For a teenage girl, these side effects are often more devastating than the cancer itself.

Last year, I witnessed a profound connection unfold within my cabin occupied by several 13-year-old girls. I always work hard to secure an atmosphere of trust and comfort from the beginning, so we sat in a circle on the first day to get to know each other.

“You’re going to try many different things this week; some are new and exciting, some challenging,” I told them. “Take a look around because you might just find your new best friends in this cabin.” I reflected on a former camper and junior counselor who indeed met her closest friends in that cabin nearly a decade ago.

I remember one young girl in particular who arrived to camp clearly in the midst of treatment – she was fragile and bald with thin eyebrows and sparse eyelashes.

“I need help discovering the best mascara on this planet,” she confessed to the group. She only had four eyelashes left and hoped the other girls had recommendations for lash enhancement.

Later, I walked into the bathroom to find the same girl perched on the countertop, sitting cross-legged and staring at the mirror, surrounded by her team of makeup consultants. The girls tested 10 different mascaras and found the one! They found each other, too.

Camp Periwinkle shows these kids that they can do what many think they can’t. It helps them survive. It’s incredible to watch them laugh, smile, dance and play in a special world created just for them.

This is where you’ll find campers cheering on a wheelchair-bound teammate during a relay race – they’ll probably lose, but nobody cares. This is also where you’ll find many dedicated adults stepping far outside of their own comfort zones to provide an unforgettable experience.

Camp Periwinkle is a sanctuary for kids struggling in their everyday lives. Here, no expense or opportunity is spared when it comes to making them feel normal.

About The Periwinkle Foundation

The Periwinkle Foundation develops and provides programs that positively change the lives of children, young adults and families who are challenged by cancer and other life threatening illnesses and are cared for at Texas Children's Hospital. Each year more than 4,000 children are touched by Periwinkle programs Camp Periwinkle, Camp YOLO, Family Camp, Camp Periwinkle Days, Periwinkle Day Camp, the Long Term Survivor Program and the Arts & Creative Writing Program which culminates each year in a traveling exhibition of art by children touched by cancer and blood disorders. Through camping, recreational and arts programming, The Periwinkle Foundation provides opportunities for these special children and their families to heal emotionally, lead fuller lives and become stronger survivors. With the generous help of our friends and supporters in the community, The Periwinkle Foundation changes lives for life. Learn more at periwinklefoundation.org.

External Author
Michelle Fritsch, LMSW-ACP