MARTINSVILLE, Ind.– Being able to go to summer camp is something some children might take for granted, but not the children at Camp Little Red Door at Bradford Woods in Martinsville, Ind. They’re cancer patients and are thankful for every day they get to spend out of the hospital.
“When my mom told me I was going to have to go to the children’s hospital in Indianapolis, I just burst into tears, I had no idea what was going to happen,” said 10-year-old camper Maria Bennett.
That was April 15, 2011. Bennett was diagnosed with leukemia, and she’ll be in treatment for another year but because of medical staff on site, she was able to attend Camp Little Red Door.
Fellow campers relate to Bennett’s fear.
“Oh was scared, I was scared to death,” said Evan Hall, 11, about the day he found out he had leukemia. “I didn’t know what they were going to do to me.”
But this summer, for a week, they put cancer behind them to just be kids.
“It is probably one of the best camps in the universe,” Hall said.
“At camp it is kind of just to get their minds off of cancer and just have fun for a week,” said 9-year-old camper Morgan Lane.
At camp, they hike, play games and learn new skills.
“I’ve been doing lots of stuff that I’ve never done before like archery and canoeing, so it has been really fun,” Bennett said.
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” said 16-year-old camper Dustin Kenna, who has been attending Camp Little Red Door for eight years.
“It has great trees and it is beautiful,” said Hall about the camp setting at Bradford Woods, which is about 30 miles south of Indianapolis.
“I kind of like when we get to go to the lake and the pool on the same day and swim all day and then we get to go canoeing and go on a boat ride,” Lane said.
It’s a chance for them to connect to the only children who can truly empathize with the adult reality they’re living in.
“I’ve never really been able to talk to people about my experience like I’ve been able to talk to the girls in my cabin about it,” Bennett said.
At 10-years-old, she gives a mature comparison.
“It is kind of like therapy because I can just forget about it and forget about the past and move on to the future,” Bennett said.
Another aspect of the camp is a hair-cutting ceremony that allows campers to donate hair or cut it in memory of someone. Lane cut off 8 inches.
“I know what it feels like to go through without hair and then mine grew back and I knew that some people, theirs doesn’t grow back so I wanted to do my part and just give some hair,” Lane said.
It means so much to Bennett, whose hair fell out during treatment and is still growing back.
“It is very nice to see that they’re doing that for their loved ones, friends and everyone they know who has gone through this,” Bennett said.
And for the campers who don’t survive, there is a memory garden on-site for the other campers to visit.
“It is a place of quiet where you can go and think about things,” Kenna said.
Kenna remembers other young campers from years past who didn’t make it back this summer.
“There was a camper last year. His name was Corey, and it was his first year and he passed away recently and thinking about the garden made me think of him,” Kenna said.
After dealing with that loss and having leukemia himself, Dustin moves forward with a greater appreciation for life.
“I think it has changed me a lot, probably for the better in my opinion,” Kenna said.
And now, it’s a goal of his to use that newfound compassion to go back to Camp Little Red Door as a counselor.
The cost for each camper is more than $1,200, but Little Red Door Cancer Agency collects donations so each camper only has to pay $25 for the entire week.
If you’d like to donate to Camp Little Red Door or if you know a child who would like to go to the camp, visit the Little Red Door website.