*** Get ready, this is a long one! ***
A few weeks later, I received a welcoming acceptance letter from Camp Okizu. :) Camp Okizu is a summer oncology camp for kids with cancer. They also have sibling camps and, as you might have guessed, family camps. It's a massive 500 acre property about an hour or so north of Sacramento - there are tall redwoods everywhere, a few lakes and open fields as well.
A few months ago when we were struggling some with Logan's behavior and adjustment to Callum's diagnosis, our social worker suggested we go to the Okizu Family Camp this summer so that we could all bond and spend some time together, and so that Logan could feel like he was getting "something out of this". I looked into it and decided it would be a great activity for all of us - we were late in signing up but they give priority to newly diagnosed families, so after giving them a call and explaining our situation (and that we basically couldn't make any of the weekends open, except for Labor Day weekend, which was of course, already booked), the lady said not to worry and she'd work it out and get us a spot.
I wasn't sure what to expect but once we arrived, I knew it was going to be terrific (and I was pleasantly surprised). I guess I didn't pay attention to how BIG it was when I read up on it - and assumed there'd be maybe 10 other families there with us or something. I was terribly wrong. ;-) There were probably about ~200 people there that weekend and the grounds were massive (500 acres is nothing to sneeze at!).
|Pathway to our cabin|
|Our cabin, with the shared deck outside (the neighbor's cabin is behind and to the left)|
|Empty bunks on the other half of our cabin|
|Where we camped out, on our side of the cabin :)|
We've never taken the boys camping before, but it had actually been our plan, before Callum was diagnosed, to go camping in the fall. Of course, those plans changed and we put all potential trips on hold when he was diagnosed.
So, I was really glad we were still able to allow the boys to experience a little camping life this past weekend - even if it was a much NICER version of camping!! (we got our own huge cabin with bunk beds, super clean and very nice bathrooms and showers, an enormous lodge with food morning, noon and night, and a nurse's infirmary just across from the lodge)
|Logan absolutely LOVED playing this game|
Still, to us city folks, it felt like we were roughing it! ;-) I was running around like crazy Friday morning, doing laundry, taking Callum to swim class, then running to Target to buy sleeping bags (for all of us), lanterns/batteries and insect repellant! :) Callum fell asleep when we got home so I spent that time packing up the truck and getting us ready to go. Because he was sleeping, we waited until he woke up - which unfortunately meant we left later than I had planned, smack in the middle of rush hour (and on a 3 day weekend, no less!). The drive was SUPER LONG and we were all getting a bit grumpy and tired by the end, but we made it and settled into our cabin pretty quickly to pass out. :)
Saturday we woke up bright and early and headed to the lodge for breakfast. The boys were beyond excited basically the entire time we were there, running non stop, laughing and skipping and generally in a really good mood.
Logan LOVED the lodge because of all the various games and activities available everywhere. Callum wasn't as interested in the games but did loving around outdoors.
We sat with another really nice family over breakfast which was interesting - it was our first glimpse into another family's story about how their daughter was diagnosed and what they were going through for her treatment, etc. We had a lot of similarities across our stories, which I would find later, was pretty common with most of the families.
After breakfast, we dropped the kids off at the kid areas (separated by age groups, as I mentioned before, Logan really wanted to stay in the younger group with Callum, so we said ok and dropped them off together). While the kids are hanging out with the camp counselors and playing and having fun, the parents group together in smaller discussion groups.
The first group was really interesting to me - and extremely emotional and heavy, as I mentioned before, because we sat in a circle of about 20 couples or so and poured through how each of us came to be there. Most of the families had kids who were battling childhood leukemia, like us, but some families had kids fighting other types of cancers (tumors, lymphoma, etc.) We were all in various stages of our treatment as well - we were probably one of the newly diagnosed families there, especially since we technically weren't in maintenance yet and I think most people wait to go after they hit maintenance. There were a few that were diagnosed around the same time as us though, and I think I may reach out to them later to connect. There were also a few families who had completed treatment (some 5-10 years ago) but return every year as a way to connect with the community that we all are now a part of. I enjoyed asking questions about what those families have learned, that might help me prepare, later on down the road....
After our group session was done, it was time to pick up the kids and have lunch. We sat with a family from San Jose which was neat - they live pretty close to us in fact. The parents didn't speak English very well, so Jon and I tried some of our broken Spanish to communicate and share our stories which I found to be good practice (and HELLO, I need to work on my Spanish some more! I had to ask the father like 10x how to say "poke" I think) :)
Once lunch is over, there are sign ups for a few activities in the afternoon - we actually lagged and didn't sign up for anything, but charmed our way into the lake swimming session that afternoon. We got a ride on one of the golf carts there (which ended up being a BIG highlight for Callum, so much that he didn't want to walk anywhere but wanted a ride from the golf carts that would be waiting at each activity "station"). :)
Logan LOVED the swimming session - he has really taken to swimming lately and is so much more comfortable in the water. For whatever reason, however, Callum was not into it, and didn't enter in past his calves... so, he hung out on the deck with Jon while I stayed in the water with Logan for a bit.
Then, Jon and Callum decided to leave and explore a bit (I think they got bored and it was SUPER hot out). I finally talked Logan into getting out of the lake too, so that we could walk around ourselves.
We made it to another activity site not too far away, at a smaller lake, where people were learning to fish.
As it turns out, Jon and Callum were there and had been catching several little fish of their own (and then throwing them back into the lake).
Logan wasn't interested in the fishing at first - he was distracted by the Nature Cabin and an Arts and Crafts table. Callum eventually joined us, and then Logan took off and went fishing with his dad. He ended up catching a pretty large fish all by himself (well Jon cast the line but the rest was done by Logan) which he just loved. :)
Once last call on fishing was called, we caught a ride on the golf cart back to camp, showered and changed and headed back to the lodge for dinner. This time we sat with a really nice family who lives near San Francisco. Callum fell asleep in my arms while he and I were waiting in line for dinner - and their younger son (also fighting leukemia) fell asleep shortly after, at the dinner table. I guess camp wiped the kiddos out. ;-)
Once dinner was done, we hung out at the lodge for a bit to play some games, before heading back to the cabin to layer on some warmer clothes, and then head to the amphitheater area where there was a campfire roaring. The counselors went through a series of fun camp songs - which the boys enjoyed at first but as the time ticked on, they got more and more impatient because they had been waiting for the grand finale (s'mores), which seemed like it wasn't coming. We finally DID grab our s'mores, which they both loved, and then trekked back to the cabin to pass out once more.
We slept in a bit later on Sunday morning, but did make it to breakfast in time. We didn't get a chance to pair up with another family though since we were running late. After breakfast, the kids split off again to play so that the parents could join another discussion group. As I mentioned before, Logan was really hesitant about going to the older camp, since he was just fine and comfortable in the younger camp, but we finally talked him into it and he ended up having a really nice time.
As it turns out, his group took a very long hike to the ropes course, where they watched the older kids climb on the ropes. They were also taught a bit about ecology within the forest, and spent the morning chopping and hacking away at large tree trunks, to break down the bark into mulch, to scatter along the ground. Logan ended up LOVING this activity and would NOT stop talking about it when we picked him up at the end of the morning session. :)
The topic of our parent discussion group on Sunday was centered around siblings and IEPs (Individualized Education Program), both topics I was keenly interested in and enjoyed participating in the discussions. As it turns out, we're doing a lot of the "right things" that the old veterans suggest and are working on themselves, so I feel a little better about how we're approaching both the sibling dynamic and school dynamic right now.
One thing that most of the parents (of recently diagnosed kids) weren't aware of, was the paperwork and intricacies of the IEP - since we have had some issues with Logan's school regarding his absence, I guess I've thrown myself into this world a bit earlier than most. For example, Callum is already scheduled for a neuro psychological exam with a neuro psychologist at the hospital, later this week. He doesn't technically *need* the exam, especially since he's not entering school until next year. However, that will be a year and a half into his treatment, and who knows what impact the medications he's been on, will have had on his system. So, I talked to someone at the hospital about it and decided to get an exam done early, this year, so that I'll have a baseline to measure against, as years go by. At the very least, I figure it will give us another data point to look at, if there are any concerns down the road. Since he's on a lower dose of treatment compared to other kids, he hopefully won't have any major side effects, but we want to be ready in case there is anything that pops up.
The same schedule was in effect on Sunday, as it was on Saturday. So, after our sessions we had lunch, this time sitting with a couple of counselors who really seemed to like Logan and Callum. :) One of the counselors was very interested in volunteering her time at a camp like this to help out kids in need. The other counselor was a previous oncology camper (a cancer survivor) and over the years, has returned and now works there. I loved getting to know them and hearing their stories, and sharing our own (which they were fascinated by).
We ended up leaving early, Sunday night, to beat some of the traffic home and get a chance to sleep in our own beds again. I had wanted to say goodbye to both girls before we left, but never saw them. I was pleasantly surprised today when I found a FB message from the cancer survivor counselor, waiting for me! I'm not sure how she found me, but she did, and we're now connected as FB friends. I love that sort of stuff. :)
Anyway - after lunch, we decided to sign up this time, for the ropes course. We spent most of our afternoon there - the boys did NOT want to try out any of the climbing, jumping or zip-lining, which was too bad. But Jon and I did!!
Well, Jon basically did everything - climbing some of the highest trees and jumping off a ledge to catch a white flag (that was the challenge). I think he finally snagged it on his third try. :) I didn't think that would work well with my back, and I'm afraid of heights anyway, so I just hung out with the boys while Jon enjoyed puffing like an old man. ;-)
Logan was THRILLED because he was able to show me what his class had done earlier that morning, which chopping and tearing apart a few of the logs nearby. So, he got Callum and a couple other counselors to help him out and they just went at it all afternoon.
I have always wanted to go zip-lining however, so I "suited up" for that activity (tried talking both boys into going, several times, but they stubbornly said no, several times) and took a run down the mountain.
It was a short course but loads of fun and I had a blast (Jon went down as well and also loved it). I can't wait for another trip where we can do more of that sort of thing! Perhaps when the boys are older they'll try it out....
Since we spent most of our afternoon at the ropes course, we didn't have much time left, but did manage to catch a golf cart back to the other side of the camp to try our hand at archery. Even though everyone was hot and tired and whiny, I figured the boys would get a kick out of it and get another burst of energy. Sure enough, they did and enjoyed learning!
Callum lost some steam toward the end and Logan got very frustrated at first - telling me, Mom, this is HARD! I helped him (thus, little pics of them shooting) quite a bit and he finally started hitting the target toward the end of the session, which he then LOVED. And then declared he'd like to go to archery camp next summer. LOL :)
Once the afternoon activities were closed, we headed back to camp again to pack up and clean up the cabin. We loaded the truck and were ready to go - but because Logan had rediscovered his friend (who turned out to be our neighbor), he asked if we could stay for dinner so he could play longer.
Of course we can stay.
So we hung out with that family for dinner, which was really nice, and the boys chatted away like old pals throughout dinner. Gulping down their food as fast as they could so they could then take off and play before it was time to go. Several games of air hockey later, we pulled the two of them away, said our good-byes, and loaded up in the truck for the long ride home.
All in all, we had a FABULOUS time. It is a bit of a drive, but once you're there, the camp is really amazing. I was so impressed with the size of the place, the quality of the buildings and services provided, the activities that kept us busy all weekend long, the wonderful counselors who loved our kids to death, the other families who we immediately connected with, the owner of the entire Camp, who was a joy to talk to and listen to old stories from....
I'm not sure whether Callum will want to go by himself, to the oncology camp, next summer. But I'm certain Logan will be up for attending the siblings camp, since he's still talking about it (and, in fact, wrote about it in his homework tonight). At the very least, I'll be signing us up for the Family Camp again, because I think it's a great experience and good for us four to spend quality time together. I can't say enough wonderful things about it! Thank you again Camp Okizu!! :)