Sleep Away Camp

I never went to sleep away camp when I was a kid. The opportunity just never arose. Instead, I went camping, backpacking or took road trips with my family.

My kids have the opportunity to go to sleep away camp this summer. This camp is designed for kids with a parent who has (or had) cancer. It’s meant to allow kids to have a great week just being kids, with the opportunity to talk about their experience if they want to, or not talk about it if they don’t. It’s not therapy. They have the chance to make friends who are going through the same kinds of things they are.

My littlest is excited to go. My eldest, not so much. She wants to bring a friend. Since none of her friends have parents with cancer (thank goodness), that’s not really an option. She fully believes this will be a week of therapy, even with multiple assurances that it’s just meant to be fun – no therapy involved. She’ll meet new friends, try new things, laugh a lot and come home asking when she can go back. She still doubts us.

She’s normally resistant to trying new things, even though experience has shown that when she does, she enjoys it. Soccer being a good example. So we weren’t surprised when she replied to our announcement with a firm, “I’M NOT GOING!” So, we dug a little deeper.

With as much as we’ve talked about it and as open as we’ve been to questions, she doesn’t want to talk about my cancer with others. It’s not that it’s embarrassing (like everything else to a 10-year-old), she just doesn’t want to talk about it. I understand this, since it’s not something I want to talk about every moment of every day either. But it brings up a some thoughts about cancer from a child’s perspective. While we’ve been very open with our kids about what’s happening, when there’s nothing happening it becomes easy to ignore it or push it to the back of the closet. How do explain to a child that Mommy is doing well now, but it can all change in a heartbeat? Can you explain that to a 6 and 10-year-old without setting off extreme anxiety? Getting them to a point where they are constantly on edge waiting for something traumatic to happen? Or does that prepare them for the possibility of the trauma? We don’t know what or when, but we’ll likely see some more drama in our lives. How do you explain to children that something MAY happen, but we don’t know what or when?

So, coming back to camp. We asked her who, besides us and her grandparents and neighbors, she has talked to about it. She said no one. We asked if she had anyone who’s gone through something similar. She said no. We asked if she felt she could talk to any of her closest friends if she got worried or anxious or just felt like she needed to talk to someone about it. She said no and mentioned that some people don’t even know and she’d like it to stay that way. I understand where she’s coming from – I don’t want cancer to be everything that I am, with people treating me like I might keel over at any moment, dancing around me as though I might break. She doesn’t want to be seen as ‘that kid who’s mom has brain cancer.’ She just wants to be a kid.

I think the week at camp will be good for both kids, to be able to talk to other kids who’ve experienced similar things with their parents. But is that enough? Should we be taking the kids to family therapy? Should we be helping them to process the possibility of the worst case scenario more? Or should we just keep allowing them to ask questions, sharing information if anything changes, and continue to let them have their childhoods without their mother’s cancer interfering with their days and friendships?

3 thoughts on “Sleep Away Camp

  1. Your perspective, humanity, character and humor continue to make this blog must read. Camp should be awesome. Your kids are going to be cool adults – I can tell. As I have said, I BELIEVE in legendary recoveries. As that QB from Seattle would say “Why not you?”

  2. You guys are handling things so well with the kids. Keep it up. Be open to discussions but don’t push the therapy until you detect a problem unless the kids say they would like someone not involved to talk with. Put the offer out there every six months or so. Camp will be awesome! I certainly understand a reluctance to go – it’s called fear of facing the possibilities. It’s normal and expected! I think the camp should be a must.

  3. Hmmm…thoughtful questions as usual. My own experience is that it seems to vary with each child, sometimes varying with what else is going on in their life at the time, and developmental considerations. I have one child who would talk less outwardly, but I think really looks to the camp to be the safe place to let down his guard (besides with me) and a younger son who is just more extroverted about my cancer and most things in general. It is the quieter one who really loves the camp. In part because the counselors (fun college students with goofy names) are so well trained in accepting the children for who they are. The cancer element is pretty secondary in the whole scheme of the camp, but the kids recognize in one another that they have been through something uniquely similar, and in general that seems to be a human bonding element. I think my older one would be more than happy to talk to you child if it would help.

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