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Photos by Shawn Habermehl.
For families of a parent with cancer, dealing with the illness can be a lonely struggle.
Patient, spouse and children face an uncertain future, and at a time when sharing could provide solace, many families – especially kids – don’t have anyone in whom to confide.
As the daughter, goddaughter and now wife of a cancer patient, Roseville’s Heidi Wieser knows this loneliness firsthand. Seven years ago, looking to help others in similar circumstances, Wieser founded the Me-One Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to giving families a time-out from the burdens of their illness.
For the past five years, one weekend a year, Me-One has sent cancer families to camp. For three days, patients, their spouses and children, are pampered, entertained and cared for at Camp Challenge – set this year for June 28-30 at Mission Springs Conference Center in wooded Scott’s Valley. The weekend is completely free, even down to gas for the drive home.
And what a weekend it is. Campers are welcomed on Friday by pompom-waving cheerleaders then shown to their private rooms. All weekend, they are free to enjoy, in the words of Camp Director John Burke, “high-octane activities” such as a carnival, sports, swimming, music, square dancing, a casino night, zip lines, and a “safe” 50-foot jump from a redwood. Just sitting quietly under a tree is all right, too. For adults, the piece de resistance is a full-service spa staffed by therapists specially trained to work with cancer patients.
Burke brings a critical perspective to the camp’s success. He has pancreatic cancer, the illness that took Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ life. Six years ago Burke was given six months to live. With their two young children, the Burke family attended the first three Camp Challenge weekends as guests, and Burke has been director the past two years. Like everyone connected with Me-One, Burke is a volunteer.
One of the camp’s benefits, Burke says, is the opportunity it gives kids to interact with other children whose parents have cancer. “Kids can feel isolated because no one else understands what they’re relating to. At camp, they get to see they’re not the only ones with a mom or dad going through cancer.”
Campers must be at least 18, and support groups can qualify as families, says Chris Maudru, a co-founder and Me-One’s president. No one has been turned away, but patients in active treatment are given priority. All campers must provide medical documentation.
Camp Challenge is funded through donations raised at several events each year. As Maudru frequently stresses, 100 percent of the money goes toward the camp.
“Putting on this camp is a lot of work,” Maudru says, “but when you see the smiles on people’s faces, it is so well worth it. We give families memories that will last the rest of their lives.”
Visit me-onefoundation.org for more information.