On the outside, Camp Quality looks like any other summer camp. Held at Camp Kannawin on the eastern shore of Sylvan Lake, campers stay in cabins, eat in a communal meal hall, sit around a campfire, and do activities together.
“It’s pretty much like any other camp, except we all have one thing in common, it’s that we’ve all been touched by cancer,” said Taylor, 14.
Taylor is a cancer survivor, who has been free of the disease for five years. This is her seventh year attending Camp Quality. She said the camp’s people are the main reason she keeps coming back.
“When you see people that you already know, the bond grows closer, and they know what you’ve been through, so they don’t judge you for anything,” said Taylor. “I can openly talk about anything. If I’m having a bad day or bad memories, I can just pull someone aside to talk about it.”
Taylor said the camp’s activities are different every year, and she learns something new every time she attends.
“I like being around people that know what it’s like to not always be equal to everyone else,” she said. “Luckily I have some really close friends here that I can talk about it with.”
Ian Campbell has volunteered as a companion at Camp Quality for five years. Each camper is paired with their own companion, and the two do all their activities together for the week. In an eight-bed cabin, half the beds belong to campers and the other half to their companions.
The relationship doesn’t finish when camp does. Companions keep in contact with their campers throughout the year, including meeting to do activities together.
“You basically become a family member,” said Campbell. He flies to Ontario every summer to visit a camper he was paired with while volunteering at another Camp Quality in that province.
“It’s like once you do it you can’t imagine having a summer without camp. The looks on their faces and the fact that they’re just able to forget about the disease makes the whole thing worthwhile,” said Campbell, when asked why he continues to return. “I think it gives them a sense of normalcy. These children and their families have been rocked by something no one should have to deal with.”
Before volunteering his first year, Campbell said he had ideas about what the camp would be like. He expected to see IV poles and medicine.
“You would think this camp would be depressing but it’s actually anything but,” said Campbell. “It’s made me really grow as a person and showed me what’s really important in life. It’s made me not dwell on things you can’t change and it’s made me live life to its fullest.”
One of Campbell’s biggest memories is a camper they ended up losing. He described him as “a 50-year-old guy in an 11-year-old body”. He was excited to attend camp, said Campbell, and had picked out everything he would wear.
“Just thinking about how he changed my life, it’s something that I’ll never forget,” said Campbell. “With the kids, each one gives a certain memory and just changes you in a certain way.”
Blake, 14, is Campbell’s camper. He has been attending Camp Quality for seven years, as has his 17-year-old brother, a cancer survivor. Like Taylor and Campbell, he said the camp’s people are the reason he keeps returning.
“How much they’ve impacted my life, and I want to help impact people’s lives now, like the campers, and just show them there’s a way out of it,” said Blake.
He said he has seen the camp make a positive difference in his brother.
“I just feel like he deserves to have a week off from not thinking about anything,” said Blake. “It helps him a lot, hanging out with people that care so much about all the kids that are here, helps him to forget about it.”
Camp Quality is a non-profit organization that aims to lift the spirits and provide support to children with cancer and their families. There are seven locations across Canada.