TROUTDALE, Ore. -- In the woods along the Sandy river near Oxbow park, kids push themselves further than they think possible on a 150-foot high climbing fort. Elsewhere they ride through the woods on horseback, or zero in on a bulls eye at the archery range.
But this summer camp is about more than fun.
Inside a craft building, 18-year old Kyle Strickland and his 15-year old sister Shannon are making bracelets out of multiple strands of fabric. They have returned for a second year. Shannon is proud of her looks.
“I actually still have hair right now. But last year I was here and I felt like, so sick. I didn’t have any hair. I was like basically a sack, ha, ha!” said Shannon.
The pair is from Forest Grove and enjoys the outdoors. “I'm usually inside, all the time basically, so it’s like a huge relief to just be out here instead of in the hospital or in my house or in my school,” Shannon said. They are two of 115 campers and siblings gathered for this special summer camp. The only requirement, one must have cancer. “I take a pill four times a week,” Shannon said. “It’s like real big and I choke on it and then once a week I go into the clinic and I get chemo," she said.
Shannon's disease announced itself 2 years ago when she was 13. “I do cry sometimes cause like, something is trying to kill me and its hard,” she said.
Cancer's pain spreads past its target, that's why big brother Kyle’s here too. “Yeah, when she was diagnosed it threw us all for a loop,” he said. Their parents have understandably shifted some focus to Shannon. “Its been alot more on me these last 18 months really to um take care of myself like, just basic things like feeding myself.
They are here at Camp Ukandu to meet other kids just like them. "Styx is in the game!" announces a camp counselor as he runs into a dodge ball game with kids.
Childhood cancer is relatively rare in the general population but not here at camp. Patients meet others with the same experiences here and siblings learn they are not alone either. And they meet living examples of hope.
“I was 9 years old when I was diagnosed leukemia,” said Chris Bradley, the counselor from the dodge ball game. He is here for his 11th year of camp. Now 25---he is cancer free. “In my daily life I really don’t even think about it anymore,” he said.
But there was a time his cancer terrified him, just like everyone else here at camp. As a boy he found Camp Ukandu. It gave him hope. “To be here at camp with counselors who were cancer survivors, that showed me that, hey, okay, so I can grow up to be just like them," Bradley said.
Now he teaches English in France. But he flies back to Portland for this one week. “I imagined camp happening without me and I thought that can’t happen. I gotta be there for camp. I gotta be there for these guys who are gonna show up and say where's Styx?!” he said.
Hillary Orr knows exactly what he’s talking about. She attended the camp years ago with her sister, who now volunteers as a counselor too. Her sister is cancer free, and Hillary now runs the camp.
She’s moved to tears thinking about the impact of this one powerful week. “It’s very emotional,” she said wiping away tears. “ We hear alot of stories about kids who come in and they're so sick and when they leave and go to the hospital, brand new kids. That's what us staff get out of it. We're giving to them this week" she said.
Kyle and Shannon Strickland cherish the week. It’s time together they’ll remember forever. “He's older, he's going to be going off to college soon, so I haven’t seen him a whole lot, and I miss him. He’s my brother. It’s pretty great being here with him,” she said beaming up at Kyle.
Here is the web site for Camp Ukandu