August 11, 2021

Hole In The Wall Gang Camp

Hi,


My name is Clare. I am the founder and CEO of Cancer Sherpa, and this is my twenty-sixth year of going to sleep away camp. And, yes, my parents are proud of me! Now I am one of, if not the oldest, camper, but when my parents first dropped me off at age thirteen, I was a skinny, bald, angry teen who was ready to prove to them that camp was a TERRIBLE IDEA. I had barely been to day camp. So what were they doing dropping me off in between stints of inpatient chemo with a trunk full of pills? If this did not fall under neglect according to some penal law somewhere, I am not sure what would – and I let them know that, repeatedly.


Yet, here I am: proudly returning to Paul’s Hole In The Wall of my own free will.

Clare as a camper and later as a camp counselor
Clare as a camper and later as a camp counselor


Paul Newman’s Hole In The Wall Gang Camp for seriously and terminally ill children was the first place I ever met other kids who were winning the fight against cancer. Unfortunately, in my hospital’s pediatric cancer class of eighteen, I was the only one who survived. But, more than that, I belonged. I laughed harder and lived freer than I had in the entire year I had been undergoing treatment.


At Hole In The Wall, there is no pretense. You come as you are. No need to wear a wig, or cover scars, or wear prosthetics for the sake of “looking normal.” We, the kids facing down cancer, HIV, AIDs, Sickle Cell, and a whole host of other hematological diseases every day of our young lives, were the norm, and it was phenomenal! Children are resilient beyond measure, and we were no different. We were just lucky enough to be in a place where we could all come together and speak freely about any and everything, especially what the world did not understand about us.


Camp is such an important part of my life because I never had to attempt to explain to yet another noob that I was a child fighting for a life that had barely begun. I had no idea what was in store for me, but I refused to give up my right to find out. Camp’s motto is Safety, Respect, and Love, and I go back every year to give those three things to the angsty tween/teens navigating their adolescence while combating a life-threatening illness. Fighting for a life you have yet to imagine is a hell of a lot easier when the person standing beside you has done it herself.

Clare and a friend at camp
Clare and a friend at camp


Over the past twenty-six years, I have been a camper, counselor, and spokeswoman for the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, and yet I still get asked, “Isn’t it hard to see and work with children that are so sick?” My answer, for the record, is a resounding “No!” Not only did Hole In The Wall show me that humanity’s greatest source of resilience and strength resides within children, healthy or infirmed, but that survival, in any form, cannot be achieved alone. I founded Cancer Sherpa because I want to be the survivor who walks beside you to remind you that there is more life, however long, to be imagined.


Let’s do this,

Clare


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