Camp Cambria changes lives for Ontario kids

September 1, 2016

100 children and teens with arthritis experience summer camp together

“We cannot thank Camp Cambria, staff, the Arthritis Society and volunteers enough for the extraordinary experience you gave my daughter. It was truly transformative for her and as her mother, very moving for me to see her experience such joy and connection in the midst of medical suffering. Thank you!!!!!”

This is just one of the reactions to a very special event held this August, as The Arthritis Society held Camp Cambria – the first ever summer camp for kids in Ontario living with arthritis. 100 kids aged 7 to 17 from across the province attended the camp on Pigeon Lake in the Kawarthas. And thanks to the overwhelming generosity of our sponsors from Cambria, campers attended for free – a huge relief for many families already facing significant medical bills.

Why is a summer camp such a big deal?

“I saw on one girl’s medical form that she had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome,” explains one of the camp’s nurses. “Her mom had written ‘very rare, please call me’, and she told me her child had never met anyone else with that condition, not even at the hospital. I realized we had an older girl with the same rare condition, and I knew I had to get these two together. When they met, they were both so excited to find someone else with the same condition, their faces just lit up. The older girl wants to be a pediatrician – she knows so much about their condition, and they were able to share their stories and what works for them. That was really rewarding.

“These kids are tough,” the nurse adds. “They are going through so much. We do all the injections, and some of them still aren’t used to it – but they come to me with their brave face and their smile on, because if it means a little less pain, they’re okay with it.”

From boating to swimming, archery to rock climbing, ropes to arts and crafts, the camp program was much like what kids experience at other summer camps, modified as necessary to accommodate their conditions. It gave each camper a taste of a quintessential summer experience in Ontario – and a chance to just be a kid.

“Last night we were telling stories about different things that had happened, medical treatments,” says Cole, a 17-year-old camper. “It was interesting to hear what other kids had experienced. I had a teacher who didn’t believe arthritis was something that could happen to a kid – one of my secretaries even asked my mother if I was going to the hospital at all, even though the scar on my knee from surgery was obvious. Here it’s different – it’s super supportive and great. Everybody gets you, because they’ve all gone through the same things.”

In addition to traditional camp activities, staff from the rheumatology department at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children ran workshops that helped the kids develop coping and management skills. In a frank dialog, older campers got to share how the challenges of life as a teen are impacted by their arthritis. And campers were among the first people in Canada to receive the new MediKidz comic book.

All in all, it was a magical week.

“The reaction from the campers and their families has been so moving,” says Ahmad Zbib, The Arthritis Society’s Ontario executive director. “For many of these kids, it’s the first time they’ve been away from home, the first time they’ve had a camp experience, the first time they’ve been with a group of children who know what they’re going through. Cambria really stepped up, not only covering the families’ costs, but providing each of the kids with a fantastic personalized experience that made them feel welcome. We can’t thank them enough, along with our host facility at Camp Maple Leaf, for helping make Camp Cambria such a success.

“Of course, the best things about camp are the friends you make and the memories you take home with you. We can’t wait to start planning for next year.”

To learn more about the impact of arthritis on children, or to support programming, resources and research to combat childhood arthritis, please visit