Published on July 11, 2013

Camp Genesis -- Taking a Break from Cancer in the Family

Will Raun felt alone and afraid when his mother was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer three years ago.

He wasn’t comfortable talking about her cancer with his junior-high classmates. At home, he focused on remaining strong, positive and helpful to his mother, Crystal, who had more than enough to endure with a whirlwind of tests and treatments. He didn’t want her to worry about him, too.

  • At Camp Genesis, youth take a break from dealing with cancer in the family to enjoy activities like riding horses, swimming and archery. The camp is held at Camp Abe Lincoln.
  • At his fourth year at Camp Genesis, Will Raun gets ready to ride a horse.
  • During a tour of the Genesis Cancer Care Institute, Maggie Pewe, RN, teaches Camp Genesis participants how syringes are used to administer drugs used to fight cancer.

During this unsettling time, he first went to Camp Genesis -- a weeklong summer camp for kids affected by cancer in their families. Amid the archery, horseback riding, and swimming, he forged a strong bond with other kids coping with the unwelcome disease in their family. He had a break from the pressures of cancer. He could enjoy normal summer fun at a time when life wasn’t close to being normal.

The camp at YMCA Camp Abe Lincoln is a collaboration of the Genesis Cancer Care Institute, the Scott County Family Y and Gilda’s Club of the Quad Cities. It’s free to kids, courtesy of Genesis. Additional funding has been provided by Tri-City Electric Co. of Iowa, Inc.

“When I got to Camp Genesis, it was such a relief to talk about this with campers who were going through the same thing I was,” says Will, 15, now a student at United Township High School. “Kids at school don’t want to talk about cancer; it’s kind of a downer. It was such an eye-opening experience to come to camp and realize I wasn’t the only kid dealing with this.”

“Camp Genesis is such a helpful and hopeful experience.”

A voice of experience

This week, Will Raun returned to Camp Genesis for a fourth time, joining about 60 campers. With each camp experience, he has grown wiser and stronger even as his mother’s health has taken twists and turns and, lately, declined. Camp Genesis has helped him in two important ways, he says.

“First, Camp Genesis gives you time to get away from the problem,” he says. “Sometimes at home, I feel like I have to hold it together. I don’t want to be sad or worried around my Mom. I feel if she sees me smiling, it might bring up her mood.

“Second, Camp Genesis gives you the opportunity to talk about cancer and learn, so that when you do go home, you can deal with it in a different way. It enlightens you.”

Camp Genesis has meant so much to him, he hopes to be a counselor there when he is older. Now more confident, he can reach out to fellow campers who are earlier in their cancer journey.

He can help them find new ways to not only cope with cancer in the family but appreciate the unique perspective on life that it can bring.

“When my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer (in April 2010), the doctors didn’t give her until Christmas to live without treatment,” says Will, who is very close to his mother and proud of the strength she has shown in the face of her illness. “It’s amazing she is still with us today. She has outlasted the odds. We’re thankful for every day, every hour, every minute, every second we get to spend with her.”

Not all about cancer

Camp Genesis’ goal isn’t to focus on cancer; it’s to provide a fun camp environment so kids can forget their worries. For a short time each day, however, the campers take a break from regular camp activities and spend time with counselor Anita Shaft of Gilda’s Club, who leads them in a hands-on activity to encourage discussion about difficult cancer topics.

“We help them understand that good things can come out of a negative situation,” says Shaft, who has been program manager of Gilda’s Noogieland for the past decade. “They can explore in a positive way what cancer means to them.

“Kids with cancer in their families want normalcy in their lives. Unfortunately, cancer can be isolating. Their young friends sometimes don’t know how to react, or how to help.”

That’s not a problem at Camp Genesis, where everyone can feel free to express feelings they may keep bottled up at home. “It’s a protective measure,” Shaft explains. “Kids don’t want to add stress to their loved one’s plate, so they hold in their emotions. That’s why they come to Gilda’s Club and Camp Genesis --.to explore their feelings and to connect with other kids who understand what they’re going through.”

On Wednesday, wives from the PGA tour in town for the John Deere Golf Classic visited Camp Genesis and made sunscreen awareness bracelets with the campers. When the beads of the bracelet change color, they know it’s time to apply sunscreen.

On Thursday, campers took a field trip to the Genesis Cancer Care Institute in Davenport, where they familiarized themselves with cancer-fighting radiation technology; saw radiation treatment planning; learned about cancer nutrition, rehabilitation exercise and the harmful effects of the sun and tobacco use; and saw a mock chemotherapy infusion. The tour helps them to better visualize what their loved one is going through to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety.

“Camp Genesis has become part of our philosophy to treat the ‘whole’ cancer patient and their families at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute,” says Sally Werner, executive director of the Genesis Cancer Care Institute. “If we can relieve some of the stress and concern a cancer patient may have about children or grandchildren, we are creating a better healing environment for that patient.”

Will’s mother, Crystal Raun, took her son to Gilda’s Club shortly after her diagnosis. Through Gilda’s Club and Camp Genesis, he has developed friendships with other kids going through similar issues, and this has helped him during the more difficult times.

“Every six months, the cancer seems to spread; by the time I was diagnosed it was already stage 4. Then they found cancer in my brain, and despite treatment, it keeps growing,” she says. “We try to keep hope in our family, but sometimes I have to say we get a little depressed. My son always looks forward to Camp Genesis.”

Will Raun is grateful for his experiences at Camp Genesis and Gilda’s Club and for the tools he has learned to remain strong during the downturn in his mother’s health.

“I definitely feel more knowledgeable about how cancer affects people and how you can help them through it,” he concludes. “It has helped give me a new outlook on life and given me a new perspective on how I can help others.”

To learn more about the services at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute, go to www.genesishealth.com/cancer

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