Camp Climb offers fun, emotional growth for children of cancer patients

Camp Climb offers fun, emotional growth for children of cancer patients
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POSTED: Saturday, June 21, 2014 - 7:00am

UPDATED: Saturday, June 21, 2014 - 7:04am

There are lots of summer camps where children learn something while they play. But at one camp, they learn how to manage one of the worst situations in life: having a parent diagnosed with cancer.

Camp Climb ran all week long. It was created this year by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge. The campers were between 4-13 years old, and all had a parent or guardian currently undergoing treatment for cancer.

Children of cancer patients can be easily overlooked because of the struggles their parents face. It can also be difficult to explain cancer to children that young.

"My older one was, before he came here, he was really, 'no, you're gonna die, you're gonna die,'" explained Mia Zebouni-Cahow. "He was getting angry a lot."

Zebouni-Cahow had two sons, 4 and 7, in Camp Climb. Their attitudes quickly changed.

"The kids are having a blast," she stated. "And then they're learning, really, every day they're learning something that will help them deal with whatever comes." 

Some of the camp counselor were Cancer Services staff members, while others were high school students. One day they drove to New Orleans, another they drove to Lafayette to go rock climbing. The campers played football, went to the movie theater, played at a water park, and decorated masks. But every activity was paired with a lesson to help the children manage the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis.

"They had a fear day, you know, about, 'what are you scared of,'" Zebouni-Cahow mentioned. "And they put things, something they were scared of in a locked box,and how you deal with the fear on the outside. And then my son was in a Ferris Wheel, and he was, you know, terrified. So that day, they were able to talk about that and how you're going to deal with that."

There was roughly one counselor for every camper, meaning each child got specialized attention.

"They're able to focus on each age," Zebouni-Cahow said. "I mean, my young one almost didn't make the cut because he's still four. But they were able to focus on each child at each age and tailor the lesson for them." 

Zebouni-Cahow received a terminal diagnosis from her doctor. She initially survived breast cancer, but it returned and spread to her spine and brain.

"I plan on being here for a long time," she stated, "but statistically, I might just be another four months, you know? So for me, it's just wonderful to know that this is preparing them for whatever happens, and it will be there later, too."

She takes advantage of some of the programs Cancer Services offers, and believes that will increase because of how good Camp Climb was for her sons.

"This has been really good for them," she said. "And then I know I can take them back and have private counseling or play therapy there at Cancer Services with these wonderful social workers that are there. So it means a lot to me." 

Cancer Services has two other camps planned this summer: Camp Care is for children who are either currently undergoing treatment for cancer or recently finished treatment, and Camp Koala is designed for children who lost a parent to the disease.

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