Camp experience revitalizes cancer patients, caregivers

Thirty years ago, Dr. ZoAnn Dreyer participated in the inaugural Camp Periwinkle, a summer camp for patients at the Texas Children’s Cancer Center and their siblings.

Today, she remains as excited about the camp as she was at its inception. In fact, Dr. Dreyer says the camp is one of the most important parts of cancer treatment.

“I think Camp Periwinkle is one of the most important things that we do, not just for our patients but for the physicians, nurses and staff who are involved,” said Dreyer, who is associate professor of pediatrics – oncology at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dreyer is medical director of the week-long camp, which is now held at Camp for All, a barrier-free facility in central Texas that hosts numerous summer camps.

Camp Periwinkle allows children with cancer and blood disorders to experience the same summer camp adventures as children who are not battling disease.

Activities include swimming, horseback riding, archery, arts and crafts, exploring nature, campfires, ropes course, biking, wheel chair basketball, volleyball, baseball, dances and much more. Campers also participate in an opening day carnival, cooking with chefs from Houston and Austin, a spa day and Olympics day. Many attend with their siblings, which makes the experience even more special.

While campers are having the adventure of a lifetime, the majority of them are also still on chemotherapy. Dreyer works with a nurse practitioner and an oncology nurse to provide medical care, including chemotherapy, dispensing medications and tending to other issues, such as fever or upset stomach, as well as injuries.

Some of the campers arrive feeling ill or scared to be away from home but they come away from the experience with a new attitude and ready to take on their cancer.

“Personally, I feel it plays a huge role in their cure. The better they tolerate therapy, the better we are able to treat them. Having the right attitude is a big factor in how they tolerate treatment,” she said.

Patients are not the only ones who benefit from the camp though. Texas Children’s Cancer Center caregivers get just as much out of the experience.

“It recharges us and keeps us filled with optimism,” Dreyer said. “There are some rough days in the clinic because things don’t always go as we hope for our patients. That’s difficult for all of us to deal with but camp serves as a life adjustment for each and every one of us who are there and helps us become better at what we do.”

More than 180 patients and siblings attended this year’s Camp Periwinkle. There was a surprise arrival during camp – Dreyer’s first granddaughter was born. But her commitment to Camp Periwinkle runs strong: she darted home for about 8 hours to be with her new grandchild, then straight back to camp!

Learn more about Camp Periwinkle and the Periwinkle Foundation.

-By Dana Benson

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