Hannah’s parents took her to see an orthopedic doctor for testing, but one morning, while waiting for the results, she awoke and was unable to move. Hannah was panicked and in extreme pain as her parents rushed her to the Emergency Room. Nothing could have prepared the McStay family for the news they were about to receive: Hannah had leukemia.
The McStay family was devastated when they learned that a bone marrow transplant was needed to save Hannah’s life. Both of her brothers were tested, but did not match, so they turned to the bone marrow registry and found an international donor. That December, Hannah underwent a successful bone marrow transplant, but this was just the beginning of her long road to recovery.
For children like Hannah, tests and treatments become the norm, a stark-walled, sterile hospital room replaces homes, and a once vibrant, active childhood is overtaken by medical care and uncertainty.
It was at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where Hannah first heard about Ronald McDonald Camp. “My friends in the hospital were all taking about how much fun they had at camp, and I really wanted to go,” says Hannah. Unfortunately, due to complications from the transplant, she was too weak to attend camp in the summer of 2013.
Another year passed, and with Ronald McDonald Camp 2014 on the horizon, Hannah, now ten years old, was cleared to attend camp – so she and her eight year-old brother, Connor, applied. Hannah’s mom, Rachel, was very nervous about sending her children to camp, but knew it was best for both of them. “This was the first overnight camp that both Hannah and Connor had ever been to, and with Hannah’s medical issues, I was very nervous. However I knew she would be under the care of her doctors and nurses from CHOP and that was reassuring,” says Rachel.
Rachel also recognizes how valuable it is that children are allowed to bring a sibling with them to camp, “Since it was the first time away from home at an overnight camp, it was very helpful for both Hannah and her younger brother to have a familiar face nearby. They were able to participate in activities together and loved spending time together in the pool,” she says. Recognizing that her medical journey has been difficult for the entire family, Hannah shares, “I like to see my brother having fun and making new friends too.”
On August 16, Hannah, Connor, and over 200 other children will arrive at Ronald McDonald Camp. It may look like a traditional summer camp, but as anyone who has been there knows, it is so much more. Ronald McDonald Camp is a place where kids with cancer, and their siblings, can enjoy just being kids. It’s a week of fun and friendship, and freedom from being different. It’s a time when kids can talk openly about the impact cancer has had on their lives, and everyone understands.
Rachel says, “Camp offers an environment where everyone knows, to some degree, what Hannah has been through. It offers a week of freedom from being a child with thoughts of cancer constantly looming overhead. Connor also finds comfort in meeting other siblings, and knowing he’s not alone is so important. I truly appreciate the opportunity to send my children to camp. We have been through so much medically, and with the toll it has taken on our finances, we would not be able to send them to a typical summer camp. We are so grateful for Ronald McDonald Camp.”
Every single oncology camper attends camp at no charge and their siblings attend for a nominal fee. Each summer, over 200 campers attend Ronald McDonald Camp and have the chance to experience new activities and acquire new skills in the supportive, nurturing environment that Ronald McDonald Camp provides. Camp helps children, like Hannah, reclaim their childhood.
Please consider helping to make the dream of summer camp a reality for children with cancer and their siblings by making a contribution. Regardless of the gift amount, know that it will provide a sanctuary of much-needed joy in the midst of a very difficult time.