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Posted: June 21, 2012 8:03 p.m.

Sunshine in their hearts

wbrawley/

Camp Sunshine provides programs througout the year for children with cancer and their families. Their summer camp programs are held at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, GA. The News got an all-access tour of the camp to hear why Camp Twin Lakes and Cam...

At Camp Sunshine, 17-year-old Jessika Douglas of Covington is an ordinary teenage girl. She's not different because she's in remission from T-cell leukemia. She's not different because she has neuropathy in her ankle from the disease.

For one week, almost every summer since she was first diagnosed around the age of four, Douglas has attended Camp Sunshine at Camp Twin Lakes with other children her age, who are either cancer survivors or currently battling cancers.

Through the years, Douglas said she has seen some of her friends overcome their cancers while others lost their battles.

After personally experiencing childhood cancer, Douglas has decided to study to be a pediatric oncologist after graduating high school.

"Having cancer really makes you want to do something about it," Douglas said.
Douglas also said her personal experience may help her relate better to children she may help in the future.

She said one of the hardest obstacles to overcome as a child who had cancer is getting other people to understand her physical limitations. The neuropathy in her ankle causes her to tire easily.

Understanding is one of the main reasons Douglas loves Camp Sunshine.

"It's like a home away from home," she said.

While it may not be just like home for all campers, it allows them a rare chance to get out of the hospitals where they spend many hours receiving treatment.

Even children currently undergoing chemotherapy or those who need regular blood transfusions can receive treatment in the state-of-the-art Medical Lodge with a doctor and a team of nurses.

Executive Director of Camp Sunshine Sally Hale said the camp offers a chance for these children to be able to make a choice about what they want to do.

"There's a lot of things these kids don't have choices about," Hale said.

For each session, campers get to pick from either two outdoor activities or one indoor activity.
Some of Jessika's favorite activities include kayaking, swimming at the zero-entry pool and creating pottery.

Above all, Douglas said she loves Camp Sunshine because of the friends and approximately 200 volunteers who feel like her family.

The volunteer statistics of Camp Sunshine speaks for its family-like atmosphere.

Sixty percent of the volunteers at Camp Sunshine have volunteered there for 10 years or more - many of whom are childhood cancer survivors who had been campers years ago.

Covington resident Paige Phillips serves as Camp Twin Lakes' program coordinator, but she started as a camper. Her sibling had childhood cancer and Phillips attended one of the camp weeks dedicated to siblings of sick children.

After falling in love with the camp, Phillips kept returning and volunteering.

Dan Mathews, Director of Camping Services, said the campgrounds serve also as a place for families who have lost children to cancer to come back and remember them because it was one place where their children were truly happy.

In 2009, Terry Milling lost her battle to cancer when she was around 13. Her family asked to spread her ashes at the camp.

"It speaks to the sacredness for so many people," Mathews said.

Camp Sunshine is celebrating 30 years. When the camp was first started by Dorothy Jordan, 44 children attended. This week, Camp Sunshine had 240 campers ages 13-18. Next week, Camp Sunshine will host a younger group.

 

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