By Bridgitte Hawkins, Former CRG Camper —
In 1986, I had the opportunity to attend Camp Rainbow Gold with my cousin Kara.
Kara and I grew up on our family ranch where life was so fun and carefree for all of us cousins. We spent endless hours riding bikes, playing in the ditches, feeding the animals and attending family barbecues at Grandpa and Grandma’s house.
Life came to a halt in the spring of 1985 when Kara was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 5. My aunt and uncle had noticed a large, discolored bump on Kara’s forehead. They all thought it was from hitting her head while playing soccer at school, but after a biopsy, it was confirmed as cancer and she began to fight the battle of her life. They endured multiple trips back and forth to Boise where she received treatments and procedures (along with many trips to TCBY for ice cream).
After several remissions and a supposed cured, Kara lost her battle on February 4, 1989.
For Kara, those years were filled with being poked and prodded, vomiting and not feeling well, but she did get breaks from the treatment. And, she got the chance to attend Camp Rainbow Gold.
Back then, CRG was a single week of camp available to cancer patients and one friend they wanted to invite. As it still is today, camp was a place to forget about the reality of the disease. It was where cancer patients could just be kids along with their friends. From the loving camp counselors, the fun activities, and the new foods to the medical staff who would be there for anything or anyone that needed cared for—it is an experience that I have enthusiastically shared with many people throughout my life.
When Kara chose me as her friend to attend camp, I already felt homesick about leaving my family. I was not one to stay the night at a friend’s house and only ever had sleep-overs at Kara’s. But I knew I had to put my fears aside and be brave for Kara as she was ready to go and forget about cancer!
So, in the summer of 1986, we were packed and headed to McCall for a week of fun. We rode the bus to camp with all the other excited campers. When we arrived, we met our camp counselor and found our cabin, girls on one side of the camp and boys on the other and a beautiful lake right outside. It was so fun for all the kids to have time away from treatment, not worrying about appointments. The week was filled with crafts, activities, great food, and more. We sat around the campfire at night singing songs and making s’mores.
One of the most memorable moments was the dance at the end of camp where we were all just a bunch of kids having an amazing time together making memories. And I’ll never forget the nights of toilet-papering other cabins and hearing all about it the next morning at breakfast.
There were plenty of pictures taken, crafts made, tears of both joy and sadness. These are the experiences kids should have. Not fighting for their life but smiles and sounds of laughter filling a campground for one solid week.
The love and compassion shown to all of us that week is something that has never left me, and how the medical staff, in particular, was always there and available for all the campers. The camp helped shape me into the person I am today, by wanting to give back to these kids and others.
My goal in life was to become the nurse that I had seen at Camp Rainbow Gold and I have been a nurse now for seven years. Kids just want to be what they view as normal and forget for a little while about their daily struggles with the disease. The kids at camp taught me about the importance of compassion and love. That we aren’t promised a tomorrow. Life is too short.
Over the last 30 years, Camp Rainbow Gold has changed. They are now able to offer family and sibling camps, a teen support group, and a college scholarship program and it is all possible because of the community and volunteers that give their time and support. I hope I’m able to return someday as a nurse or counselor. What an amazing organization to be part of.
I thank Camp Rainbow Gold for impacting so many lives and giving me and so many kids the experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. Kara is gone but never forgotten.