Two weeks a year, I have the great opportunity to go to summer camp as Co-Medical Director of NJoyitAll Camp. In those weeks, my patients are simply kids, and I am there to help them experience camp as authentically and fully as possible. It is among my very favorite things I do all year.
NJoyitAll is a week-long overnight summer camp for Cincinnati Children’s patients who have or had cancer, blood diseases or immune disorders. Many of these kids and teenagers have spent months in treatment at the same time – sometimes right next door to each other in the hospital – but have never interacted more than waves and polite hellos. At camp, they spend 24 hours a day together, for 6 days straight and form lifelong bonds almost immediately. They help each other heal. It is incredible to see.
My first experience with camp was way back in 2005 during my first summer in Cincinnati after fellowship. I have always been interested in what patients do outside the hospital, so the opportunity to be part of the medical team at camp was perfect for me. I loved that first year so much, I have only missed camp once in the 13 summers since.
It takes a huge number of people working together to make the two weeks of camp a reality. The staff at Camp Joy is an absolutely incredible group of talented people. They partner with our child life specialists and social workers to create programming that is empowering for campers and inclusive of campers of all abilities.
One afternoon each week, the campers make salsa. It’s delicious, of course, but it’s also an opportunity for the kids to learn about food preparation, a life skill the kids may have missed being in the hospital so much. They spend time talking about their conditions, but they spend more time exploring their independence and doing traditional camp activities. They learn new things in an environment where nobody is judging them or saying they’re not doing it right.
Camp Joy has a 50 ft. tall climbing wall. It’s a right-of-passage of sorts, to conquer the wall in a harness and helmet. One of my favorite memories from camp is of a patient who uses a prosthetic leg as a result of a bone cancer that made amputation necessary. She wanted to climb the wall, but wasn’t sure she could do it. She decided to take the first step and see how far she could go. With the entire group cheering her on, she made it to the very top. She set the goal and overcame the obstacle. It was a joy to see her discover just how capable she is.
While the kids are at camp, enjoying swimming, climbing and campfires, there is also a medical team keeping them healthy. We are doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and physician assistants who all sleep at camp and take care of anything that may come up. We routinely administers chemo, dispense daily medication and do factor infusions. Because it’s camp, we also take care of injured ankles, bee stings and bug bites. We keep the kids well hydrated and monitor how each camper is handling the increased physical demands of camp.
During camp week, kids often discover they can do incredible new things. Our hemophilia nurse, Ann, does infusions for the kids, sometimes several times during camp. If the kids show interest in learning how, she will show them how to start their own IV and administer the infusion for themselves. It’s an empowering new freedom for the kids who learn how to do that piece of their own medical care.
Making NJoyitAll Camp a reality for our campers is a true team effort. Each member of Camp Joy’s staff and every member of our Cincinnati Children’s team brings their own unique skills and talents to camp. The team comes together for two weeks to make this amazing experience.
We always end the week with a talent show. We’ve seen talents ranging from reciting math problems to breakdancing – and everything in between. At one talent show, a teenage patient who survived an aggressive brain tumor shared his incredible breakdancing skills. His tumor had impacted his ability to walk, and he was aided by a brace and cane. But his dancing was incredible. He danced on stage in front of other teenagers and when he was finished, they gave him a standing ovation. All. The. Feels.
Truly magical things happen at camp. Friendships, discoveries, new experiences and time to simply be kids. I love my time at camp and am almost packed for NJoyitAll Camp 2019!
Dr. Hummel will also share his story on March 14th during Warm 98’s Radiothon benefiting Cincinnati Children’s and NJoyitAll Camp. Tune in to 98.5 FM anytime from 6a to 6p on Thursday to call in your support for camp, or make your pledge now at: cincinnatichildrens.org/radiothon
Photo by: Cara Hummel Photography