I never knew what it was like to not be “the kid whose sibling who had cancer”. My older sister was sick before I was born, so being a cancer sibling was the only thing I ever knew.
When you’re small, you don’t even realize that it’s unusual. It’s only when you start going to school and the other kids start asking you about yourself that you realize you’re the only one who has had that experience. As you move through school it becomes a label, whether you want it to or not.
I started going to Camp Quality when I was 8. My years at CQ were full of silly jokes, exploration, and laughter, but most significantly they were where I finally connected with other kids who knew what it meant to be a cancer sibling. What it felt like to never be worried about your own health, but to have a constant fear in the back of your mind that someone you loved could disappear.
I’m still shy and nervous by nature, but I have skills and confidence I would never have had without camp. As a Ph.D. student I have a myriad of responsibilities, from research to teaching to serving on various committees, but of all the things I do in a year, camp is by far the most important.In just a matter of days, I see the campers change and grow. Strangers become the best of friends, shy teens sing their hearts out at the talent show, and nervous ones forget every worry in a crazy game of dragon-tails in the canoes. I also see
them having conversations they never imagined they’d have, learning how to navigate the complications that come with approaching adulthood. Looking at the campers, I see my younger self, and I see what they can become. It’s hard to describe the importance of camp. Camp is fun. Camp is laughter. Camp is songs around a campfire.
It’s hard to put into words exactly what Camp Quality means to me, for one simple reason: I would, quite literally, not be who I am today without it. Camp Quality was arguably the first place where I felt like I could truly be myself; I was challenged emotionally, mentally, and physically, and achieved things I never thought I could do. For me, that meant talking to “cool” people I’d never had the courage to speak to, opening up about things I’d never talked about, and coming out of my shell in ways I’d never imagined. I had always been the shy kid, the nervous kid, the one who never talked or put themselves out there. Because of Camp Quality, all of that changed. I became life-long friends with people I never thought I’d have anything in common with.
In my last year as a camper, I distinctly remember being told by a younger camper that they looked up to me in particular as a role model for the type of person they wanted to be, saying I made them feel welcomed and like they could be themselves. It was in that moment that I realized exactly how powerful camp is: somehow, over my years as a camper, I had become the very person I once looked up to.
Fast forward several years, and I’m currently pursuing my Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. Camp Quality is still an integral part of my life, having volunteered there since I outgrew being a camper.
Camp is realizing that there’s another side to yourself you didn’t know existed, a side free of inhibitions or anxieties. Camp is learning to be yourself. The transformative power of camp is hard to explain, but I’m walking proof that its effects are profound, far-reaching, and long-lasting. Camp is camp, and that’s why it’s so special. There’s nothing else like it.