Since 1983, the Pediatric Oncology Branch (POB) of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has provided medical and nursing care to children at Camp Fantastic. Camp Fantastic is a week-long adventure for children ages 7-17 years, who are either undergoing treatment or are within three years of their last cancer treatment, or five years of their bone marrow transplantation for cancer. The camp is run in cooperation with Special Love, Inc., a non-profit organization providing unique experiences for children with cancer and their families.
Camp Fantastic, held each August in Front Royal, Virginia, provides a unique camping experience for approximately 100 children each year. At camp, children have a week filled with activities such as sports, swimming, horseback riding, crafts and other adventures, providing the unique experience of integrating normal activities, while at the same time interacting with peers who have shared the trauma of the cancer experience. What sets Camp Fantastic apart from other pediatric oncology camps is the ability to provide state of the art on-site medical care, allowing children with a wide variety of medical needs to experience a “normal” week of camp. The POB coordinates all aspects of care at Camp Fantastic, creating an on-site medical facility each year, staffed by NIH physician and nurse volunteers, as well as Special Volunteers to NIH from the community. Medical needs for campers vary from minimal to extensive. Communication with primary physicians and oncologists, as well as coordination with the ancillary services of the NIH Clinical Center, allows care to be individually tailored to meet the specific needs of campers. A large number of campers receive some form of chemotherapy while at camp, and many require close monitoring to ensure a safe, yet magical camping experience.
Cancer has an enormous impact on the psychological and social well-being of children and their families. The life-threatening connotations of cancer often single out children from their family or peers as “being different,” and often keeps them from living a “normal life.” The physical consequences of cancer and its treatment only accentuate the differences between these children and their healthy brothers, sisters, and friends. As children grow and mature, it is important that they learn independence. For healthy children, independence is sometimes learned through a camping experience; however, children with cancer are often unable to have such experiences because of their physical limitations, medical needs and dependence on medical facilities.
The POB is dedicated to improving the quality of care for children with cancer. When the POB was first approached about creation of this very special camp, they developed a research protocol to assess the effects of a “normalized” camping experience on the quality of life of pediatric cancer patients (Protocol 83-C-022: Psychological Benefits of a Normalized Camping Experience for Children with Cancer). Children who attend Camp Fantastic come from all over the Washington, D.C./Virginia/Maryland region, yet one common thread is that all campers consent to participate in this research protocol, and become outpatients of the NIH Clinical Center. The first Camp Fantastic was held in August 1983, at the 4-H Center in Front Royal, Virginia. The camp brought 29 children with cancer together with a cadre of program volunteers from Special Love, and medical staff from the National Institutes of Health. Since the first camp, over 1800 children have attended Camp Fantastic, with many attending camp multiple years.
The camp serves several “purposes”: (1) to improve the quality of life of pediatric cancer patients through a normalized camping experience, thereby exerting a positive influence on the child’s sense of well-being and self-esteem, as well as his/her relationship with parents, family, and peers; (2) to enhance relationships between healthcare professionals and patients, with these groups getting to know each other in a new light, and gain insights into each others’ problems and needs; and (3) to serve as respite for the patients’ families, especially when care needs are significant.
The Principal Investigator for this protocol and camp Medical Director is Dr. Stephen Chanock. For more information about this research protocol, please go to Search the Studies on the NIH Clinical Center website (http://clinicalstudies.info.nih.gov/cgi/wais/bold032001.pl?A_83-C-0022.html@camping), or contact Tammara Jenkins, MSN, RN, Medical Coordinator for Camp Fantastic at firstname.lastname@example.org.