Camp Quality is a summer camp for children who have cancer and their siblings. It was began in 1983 by Vera Entwhistle, in Australia. Entwhistle is responsible for forming Camp Quality in several countries including the United States. Camp Quality has 15 summer camp programs worldwide. The first Camp Quality in the United States was held in 1986 in Northwest Missouri.
Three years later, the first Camp Quality, Arkansas was held in Bald Knob. I was one of the first campers. My week spent in Bald Knob was the first time I spent more than a night away from home and the first time I spent any night without a relative close by. I will never forget the day the letter to apply to be a camper came in our mail. The camp sounded so exciting as it listed information on swimming, fishing, and one aspect that caught my attention more than the others. Camp Quality is organized where a camper between the ages of 6 and 18 (at least at that time-I think the age lowered as time went on) has one friend assigned to them for the week of the camp. The friend is called a “companion.” I wanted to attend the camp very much. After an hour of examination, my parents agreed that the camp would be free of charge and I could attend. I was very excited to begin camp on July 9, 1989, my dad’s forty third birthday.
My first companion was named Janna. She was my sister’s age (18) and a very nice young lady. In 1990 however, she did not return to the camp. Instead, a former camper named Hope became my companion and my best friend for several years. She had twin brothers and one of her brothers was my first boyfriend. I visited her home once or twice throughout the next several years. She returned to be my companion for a few years and then was unable to return again. I had several other companions before turning 18 years old and being a companion myself. I stopped returning to the camp in 1999 due to personal issues but it has never remained far from my mind.
Camp Quality, Arkansas was the first place I met a friend who lost his life to cancer. His name was Jonathon and one year he was on the news at camp then gone the next. We met a few days after camp at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where he told my mom how sick he was. I had no idea he was so close to death. We roamed the halls of the hospital that day until I was called back to have a ct-scan. The next time I saw Jonathon his picture was on the biannual camp newsletter with the caption 1976-1989. I could not believe he was gone and ripped up the letter. The next camp confirmed his death and there was no more denying it for me. The camp had a television set with videos from news reports on the camp the year before. I saw one and Jonathon was interviewed saying he liked camp because “no one calls me baldy and things like that.” When I saw the video, I cried because it was true. Of all the years I spent as a Camp Quality camper, I never once felt like I did not belong. It comforted me to know he felt the same way at least once before his death.
Worldwide there are many Camp Quality campers like Jonathon and I once were. Having cancer complicates life and forces a child to grow up well before he or she should. The camp provides a break from those worries and for that reason it is priceless. Everyone should have a “happy place” when life gets dark and for me it is my memory of this camp. Walking those grounds each year gave me the strength to cope when others at home were hurtful and cruel about the cancer. I am sure this is the case with many other campers.
I was twelve when the Camp Quality application arrived in the mail. Though my cancer battle was three years before, I still felt out of place and, well, weird. Depression had reared its head in my life and I had thoughts of suicide. In later years, remembering a place existed where I did not have to worry about being different helped to keep me sane. Truly Camp Quality, Arkansas saved my life. How can anyone put what that means into words?