When I was 21, I began working at a camp in the States for kids with life-threatening illnesses. It changed my life. Seeing kids given the chance to actually be kids is hard to describe, but camp acted as a vehicle for campers to see their successes and their potential, not their disease. I'd grown up hearing about Ooch from my own camp counsellors who had volunteered there. When the job opening for camp director came up, I knew I had to put my hat in the ring.
Three years in means a lot of happy and sad times. As the months start to lead up to summer, and the start of camp, I always start to think of Jack, one of the bravest campers I've ever met. Back in 2003, Jack was diagnosed with Pilocytic Astrocytoma/Thyroid cancer. In 2009, when he was nine years old, he signed up and came to Ooch for the first time. Camp was new for Jack, but he jumped right in, made friends, and soaked up everything it had to offer. The following year, despite him wanting to return, Jack couldn't sign up for Ooch, because he had to get tracheotomy surgery. Since overnight camp wasn't an option, he and his family participated in countless Ooch Downtown programs. Still, Jack wanted to go back to Ooch North and just be a kid. Seems so simple and yet for kids with cancer, it gets so complicated. Due to his tracheotomy, Jack requires complex care which includes having an adult trained in trach-care at his side 24 hours a day. With the help of a committed team at Ooch and from SickKids, no became a yes and Jack was able to come back to camp. One of his cabin counsellors was appointed as an emergency department nurse during the day, and an additional nurse from Muskoka came in to monitor Jack's vitals and provide suction to him at night. Jack's sickness required constant care and monitoring, and was emotionally and physically draining. But if you asked Jack about his summer at camp, he'd tell you about the rock wall he climbed, the fish he caught, and the friends he made. That's what makes it all worth it.
I'm truly humbled by the amount of support Canada has for Ooch -- this year's Sporting Life 10K on May 12 was sold out with 27,000 running and walking down Yonge Street. One hundred per cent of net profits will benefit Ooch, which is enough to fund our entire summer residential program and give kids like Jack the summer a kid deserves. I can't wait for the new memories and kids I get to meet this summer.