Jacksonville, FL - When you’re a child dealing with a serious illness, it can be difficult to do things that other kids take for granted. When you’re a family that has a child with cancer, it can be a physical, mental, emotional, and financial challenge.
Camp Boggy Creek tries to eliminate those challenges- at least for a weekend.
Camp Boggy Creek, in Eustis, hosts trips for children with serious illnesses- offering an opportunity for children to do camp-oriented activities with other kids going through the same things they are, all with accessible medical care.
Among the many things the Child Cancer Fund does, it sponsors a weekend retreat at Camp Boggy Creek every year for Jacksonville families.
“It’s not like you’re at camp, it’s just an amazing place,” says CCF Executive Director Carla Montgomery.
Chris Quindoza never got to attend the family retreat with his daughter- she was diagnosed at 8-years-old in 2002, and fought leukemia for nine months before she passed. Now, however, he volunteers as a counselor at the Camp in her honor.
“It’s very helpful to me because I can try to, in some small way, help a kid or a family,” he says.
Quindoza says the assistance he got through CCF to deal with what was happening with his daughter was invaluable. He tries now to pay that forward through his volunteer efforts. While his focus is connecting with the children, he also spends time with other parents to talk through what they’re going through.
“It’s much of what my wife and I went through- helpless. And I don’t want to say hopeless, because my brother survived so there is hope, but we feel helpless, because there’s not a lot you can do as a parent or even a sibling to help that child,” Quindoza says.
Quindoza’s brother survived cancer in the 70s- and he says that shows the bittersweet side of what he’s gone through, because helping his brother’s recovery is what brought his family to Florida in the first place.
“If that didn’t happen, that he got the cancer, I probably would have never met my wife and we would have never had our baby. So, it’s kind of, I don’t want to say fate, but maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be,” he says.
It’s important for families to be able to connect and share stories like that, according to those involved in organizing the retreat.
“Everybody is ‘in the same boat’, so people can share experiences,” says Dr. Cynthia Gauger, with Nemours Children’s Specialty Care.
And even beyond sharing experiences, it’s also a chance to escape.
“The siblings have fun, the kids have fun, we don’t think about coming to clinic, we don’t think about our disease, we don’t think about having to give chemotherapy. We’re there to have fun,” Gauger says.
Quindoza has seen those connections in action, kids forming lifelong bonds. What he has recently come to realize by talking with a camper’s mother, however, is he makes a difference on the kids as well.
“She said he [one of his campers] talks about me every now and then, so I mean that makes it worthwhile. You know, when you hear that saying ‘you’ve affected at least one person’, that did. In some way I affected him in that I made him have fun,” he says.
And the return for him is huge as well.
“I was driving around yesterday and I heard a song. I’ve heard this song a hundred million times, and I was thinking ‘why did it sound so good to me yesterday’, and the last time I was at camp they played the song and we were all dancing and that’s how I remembered it,” he says.
“A lot of times, if I start to feel down, I think about camp or something like that and it cheers me up,” Quindoza adds.
Talking to the kids involved, it’s clear that they get cheer from the experience as well- although some admit to us that they prefer when their parents aren’t there, but that’s because they want to sneak more candy or go on adventures their parents may be hesitant about.
Quindoza thinks that’s exactly what the point of the camp is. Quoting the founder, Paul Newman, he says kids should be able to “raise a little hell”.
“I think the role that we play is just to make them smile and have a good time,” he says.
He plans to continue volunteering as long as he is able, and keep referring children and families to participate as well.
Camp Boggy Creek is a 232-acre site which features fishing, tower climbs, horseback riding, and more for children 7-16 who have been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening condition. It operates year-round, with different weeks and weekends tailored to different illnesses.