Pediatric brain tumor survivors and their families on Sept. 21 through Sept. 23 converged on Jack's Camp at Livermore's Camp Arroyo to have fun, converse with camp doctors and share ideas and experiences in dealing with the difficult aftereffects of brain tumors.
The camp offers campfires with s'mores, arts and crafts, games, swimming, rope courses and other fun activities. There are breakout sessions for the brain tumor survivors, and parents, and siblings can chat about their feelings and challenges.
"The kids that come here feel more comfortable when we are here," said Richard Gonzales, 21, of Tracy. Richard has come a long way since he first came to Jack's Camp six years ago. Gonzales is in his second year of college and works as a mall security guard. He just got his license and his own car.
"I come here to show kids 'if I can do it, you can do it too. You don't have to feel like you're different. You're just the same as everyone.' " Richard's mom, Michelle Gonzales, said Jack's Camp gives the kids the freedom to be who they are.
Most of the children deal with some cognitive, mood and social-interaction problems after their brain tumors are removed and they go through intensive chemotherapy.
"It's almost like tumor-induced autism," said Jeanne Carlson, of Woodside, mother of Sarah Carlson, 17. The Carlsons come to both of the Jack's Camps offered each year, and have been 11 times.
Each family participated in an arts and crafts activity, where they were told to make flags that represent their family. Sarah, who wants to be an artist, was in her element. Not only was she filling up her family's flag with magazine clippings and other things that represented her family, she was doing the same for the Gonzales family.
At the table nearby, Chris and Brandi Wecks, of Newark, were putting together their flag. Scarlett, 11 months old, was playful on her mom's lap, flashing big smiles and laughs.
Scarlett has hearing loss, vision loss and physical delays after her brain tumor was removed and she went through 12 surgeries. But she did her first crawling last month, her parents shower her with love and she returns it.
They presented their flag to the rest of the families, showing the pictures of food and wine, representing their status as "foodies" and a big butterfly, which they said is their symbol of Scarlett's recovery from brain cancer.
The families come to Jack's Camp for information also. With such a wide range of ages and stages of recovery from their surgeries and chemotherapies, the families can share experiences, and tell each other about programs and support that is available in the Bay Area.
"It's absolutely helpful to see other kids at other stages," said Chris Wecks.
Renee Medeiros, of Dublin, has been volunteering at different camps at Camp Arroyo for 10 years. She has a son with autism and she is a brain tumor survivor herself.
"I know what it's like to be a special needs parent.
Medeiros says having people that have been through it, is helpful for the families with younger children.
"We talk about special education, networking on resources in the area that these kids will need further down the road. They can help shine a light on what your future can be. It makes it not so scary." Barry and Elaine Taylor, the founders of the Taylor Family Foundation, are related to Jack, the young man the camp was named after. Jack died of a brain tumor when he was in his 20s.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.