The Healing Experience of Sibling Camp

Jan 31, 2020 | Camps

By Courtney Despres, CRG Volunteer —

As a sibling of a child with cancer, you are faced with unusual and conflicting feelings. You become consumed with the fear of losing that sibling and guilt for being healthy. You yearn for the attention of your parents who are now focused solely on your sibling, yet you feel at fault for thinking of yourself in such a situation. You are often left feeling alone in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.

I was 13 years old when my twin sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer. Moving quickly after her diagnosis she faced months of surgery, treatments, and what seemed to be endless doctor’s visits. Thankfully today, she is a happy and healthy young woman; but for a time we weren’t sure she would make it to our 14th birthday. During that time, my mother and sister left for Utah where my sister would complete specialized treatments, and my father stayed at home working extra hours to keep us afloat. I stayed at home as well; separated from my mother and sister and not spending much time with my busy father. Given the situation, I became the caregiver for my younger sister who was 8 years old at the time, and I continued to work my way through the 8th grade carrying these new burdens and emotions.

I knew no one in a similar situation to mine and I felt very alone. I had no idea how to cope with what I was going through. Camp Rainbow Gold’s Sibling Camp is an outlet for these conflicting thoughts and emotions. It’s a place for love, laughter, education, and hope. It’s a place for recognition and praise. Together at Sibling Camp we siblings get to learn we are not alone in what feels like an alienating experience.

When sibling camp was created, I was a year too old to attend. Later, I attended Sibling Camp for the first time as a volunteer cabin counselor. What I got out of sibling camp was more than I could have ever imagined. Even though I attended as a counselor, that first week I spent at sibling camp was a healing time for me. Prior to camp, I had kept my experience of this time in my life to myself.

When I was witness to the campers in my cabin sharing their own experiences with each other, I realized for the first time that those clashing feelings I had back then were normal and my desire for attention from my parents didn’t make me a bad person. I gained confidence and a better understanding of myself and what I went through. I felt connected to the people around me, and I felt hope for all of our futures. Camp Rainbow Gold’s Sibling Camp is a moving and empowering experience. The fact that I attended as a volunteer rather than a camper and still finished out my week with the healing experience that camp offers is a true testament to magic that happens at Sibling Camp.