Forming Bonds in Difficult Times
By: Marshall Keely
LEONARDTOWN, MD — For siblings of childhood cancer patients, one week of the year stands above the rest. 110 campers and 55 counselors arrive at BRASS camp with one experience in common.
“When you’re a cancer sibling, you really grow up in the shadow of your sick brother or sister,” says Jodi McKay, BRASS camp’s volunteer camp director. “For us to able to create a safe haven for those kids, and for one week out of the year really have them step out of that shadow and become the shining star for the week is what our goal is,” says McKay.
The acronym BRASS stands for Brothers and Sisters. Though this acronym is a reference to the campers being siblings of cancer patients, BRASS camp is a lot like a family.
“I want them to have a lot of good memories when they get home, but also to feel like they have that network. I want them to feel like they have me as a safety net,” says Tommy Norris, a BRASS counselor and long-time camper.
Tommy is typical of the BRASS camp program, he was ushered from a camper into a counselor position by completing the camp’s counselor in training program. This program gives BRASS a strong base of experienced staff able to understand the difficulties the campers are going through.
“Seeing your brother go through pain, seeing your brother’s hair go away, seeing him need help getting up the stairs, it’s really hard,” Norris says. “You don’t think a ten year old needs to go through that.”
Camp counselor Hales Parcells understands what it’s like to feel forgotten.
“I understood that Becca’s medical needs came first, but at the same time [I] just felt like I was missing out on a lot of childhood,” says Parcells. “So this was a really good place to come and be free and be a kid again. This was a place where I could just be me.”
Parcells’ sister, Becca, was in remission for 10 years when her cancer came back.
“I thought Becca had kind of reached the end of her journey and that I would be there for the campers,” Parcells recalls. “But at that point it was like ‘Oh, shoot! I need BRASS camp again for my own sake.’”
BRASS camp strives to bring more cancer siblings out of the shadows.
“There’s a lot of populations that benefit from residential camps; this is a population that’s missed,” says McKay. “My hope is that in the years to come a lot of the other camping programs that are out there will recognize that the cancer strikes a family.”
BRASS camp is a Special Love INC. program. The non-profit organization holds a separate camp for childhood cancer patients and various weekend events for the entire family.
For more information about Special Love programs and to find out how to get involved, visit their website here.