COVID Can’t Stop Camp: A 2020 Update

A diagnosis of childhood cancer is a big, scary swerve in the road. It changes life in an instant. For affected kids and families, it can suddenly feel like everything is about cancer. CAMPFIRE CIRCLE offers a different journey, where kids with cancer can just be kids, and families connect with a community of strength and support when they need it the most. We are much more than a summer camp—we offer the social cure for childhood cancer. Our camp-inspired programs deliver fun, friendship, and community to 1,900 kids and 745 families year-round, all across Ontario.

We often meet kids battling cancer on their first day of diagnosis at one of five paediatric cancer centres across Ontario. New in 2020 are virtual camp programs that reach kids, their siblings and families living in isolation, wherever they are, all at no charge to them.

We serve children with cancer, newborn to eighteen, their siblings, and parents/guardians. Children may be newly diagnosed, on active treatment and immuno-compromised, gravely ill, palliative, in remission, or bereaved due to the loss of a sibling. Patients and their siblings can access fun camp-inspired programs at paediatric cancer centres including McMaster Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre, Credit Valley Hospital (Trillium Health Partners), Rouge Valley Centenary (Scarborough Health Network), and Southlake Regional Health Centre, and SickKids—where 60% of Ontario’s paediatric cancer population are served.

Life-threatening diagnoses and cancer treatments are traumatic. Childhood cancer is especially aggressive, calling for more aggressive treatment protocols than in adults; this can be very painful for the child, and traumatic for the entire family. Social isolation from hospitalization poses additional, developmental challenges for children. Thankfully, 85% of children survive cancer, but two-thirds live with a disability or mental health impacts caused by cancer/treatment.

Our families already deal with heightened financial pressures of lost income and cancer-related costs, and are now experiencing COVID-related job losses like many Canadians, impacting family functioning and well-being. Our programs respond by providing dynamic social environments that engage all family members, helping to support every member’s social, emotional health and well-being during these unprecedented, uncertain times.

In the spring and summer of 2020, surveys and in-depth telephone interviews about the impact of COVID, Camper families confirmed the anguish of isolation they feel. Their feedback gave us insight into their immediate needs for fun, social time, and a sense of belonging. We surveyed North American oncology camps to learn how our peers were serving their communities so as not to duplicate services, and discovered how uniquely engaging and active our programs are. We innovated and quickly developed engaging, interactive, and participatory virtual programming to support our kids and families. And this past summer, we shared our newly developed programming expertise with our camp partners—Camp Oki for kids with heart disease, Camp Jumoki for kids with sickle cell disease, and Emily’s House for palliative kids and kids with life-limiting conditions.

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