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Arizona Camp Sunrise & Sidekicks Provides Support System for Kids and Siblings Impacted by Childhood Cancer
When Alicia Collins first gave birth to her twin girls, Cortney and Kelsea, she realized that even the seemingly simple things, like running into the gas station to grab a soda, would now prove challenging. By the time those twins reached 18 months of age, though, she found out what a real challenge was.
At just 18 months, Cortney received an acute lymphocytic leukemia diagnosis, and she spent much of her early years undergoing treatment for the condition.
“The doctors referred to her as ‘good girl,’ because that’s what she repeated when she was scared of the needles used in her treatments,” Collins said. “I still hear those words in my head – ‘I a good girl, I a good girl.”
By age 8, her mother heard about Arizona Camp Sunrise & Sidekicks, two summer camps run by the Southwest Kids Cancer Foundation that serve children battling cancer and the siblings of children battling cancer, respectively, and signed both kids up to participate.
Cortney attended Camp Sunrise, where she spent time with other kids facing similar diagnoses and struggles, while Kelsea attended Camp Sidekicks, where she joined a community of brothers and sisters who, too, were learning how to deal with their siblings’ diagnoses. Within a few years, though, Kelsea, also received devastating news: she, too, was now battling the same condition her sister, Cortney, had 10 years earlier. Kelsea went through nearly the same treatment that Cortney had completed with the same results, remission. However, rather than switch over to Camp Sunrise alongside others with cancer diagnoses, , Kelsea chose to continue to attend Camp Sidekicks, where she had found an intensely strong support system and, ultimately, an extended family.
After experiencing a few cancer free years, at age 19, Kelsea learned she had an extremely rare brain tumor. About 10 years to the day when she initially received her cancer diagnosis, she succumbed to the brain tumor. Throughout her battle, she and her family received an outpouring of support from the members of her camp community, who wrote letters, paid visits and otherwise made sure she was aware they were in her corner, whether or not camp was in session. While Alicia, Cortney and the rest of Kelsea’s family will always remember her as a fighter, they’ll also remember the unforgettable camp experiences Kelsea had as well as the support they received from a community that understood their plight in a way others simply couldn’t.
“I quickly realized that this was more than just a one-week camp – this was an extended family,” Alicia said. “This wasn’t just a support system for my kids – it was a support system for my entire family, and these selfless people have given so much to me through the love and support they’ve shown my kids.”
While the family’s days at Camp Sunrise & Sidekicks are behind them, Alicia, Cortney and the rest of the Collins family will never forget the community they found there and how the camp helped ease their experience with the disease. They’ll also be among those voicing their support for the camps at the Southwest Kids Cancer Foundation’s 6th annual Celebrating Life – Campfire & Marshmallow Gala slated for 6 p.m. Saturday, May 18.
In addition to enjoying a silent auction, cocktails, a camp-style activity hour, live music and a dinner, attendees at the event will help ensure that other families touched by childhood cancer will be able to give their children – and their siblings – an opportunity to attend these camps, build their communities and lean on and learn from others facing similar struggles. Proceeds from ticket sales will help enable other cancer-stricken children and their siblings to attend camp free-of-charge, where they, like Cortney and Kelsea, will find a safe, compassionate sanctuary full of kindness, understanding and support.
“My ‘campily’ offered the kind of love and support you can only understand if you are able to experience it,” Alicia asserted. “They understand how precious life is in a way most people don’t, and this treasured week at camp is about so much more than a week away from home – it’s the beginning of something special that these kids desperately need.”
For more about Arizona Camp Sunrise & Sidekicks and the Southwest Kids Cancer Foundation, visit SWKidsCancerFoundation.org.