Sailing Back to Joy: Max’s Journey with Horizon Day Camp–Metro DC

Max at Horizon Day Camp Metro DCFor parent Jamie McElhatton, sending children into the world is like watching little sailboats make their way across a big body of water. “Then all of a sudden, there is a clinical set back and you feel like the boat has stopped and is taking on water,” Jamie explains. “Your family cares only about one thing: keeping the boat afloat.” In this case, the boat is Jamie’s son Max, who in 2018 at the age of 4 was diagnosed with cancer – specifically, a pilocytic astrocytoma tumor of the brain stem.

Over the past four years, Max has been on multiple forms of chemotherapy, enduring so much but rising above it all. Max’s team at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. helped get Max on a clinical trial of a new experimental drug that has shrunk his tumor and improved life dramatically. Sunrise’s Horizon Day Camp–Metro DC helped Max return to the waters, so to speak, and once again set sail with other children.

Max had just started the trial when he began camp last summer. He was so nervous. He had missed so much school. Why Horizon Day Camp–Metro DC proved invaluable was twofold. “First, it was a safe and supportive space for Max to come back into the world after his team managed to get him stable and improving,” says Jamie. Within just a few days, Max was sitting at the kitchen table with his family, singing the camp theme song.

“I was so relieved and grateful to see him playing with other children, smiling and laughing and singing. We couldn’t give Max those experiences by ourselves but that’s what we all had been fighting for. Max was living his life.”

Secondly, Jamie explains that Horizon Day Camp was so helpful because Max had missed a lot of school in the spring of 2022. Camp set him up for success. “When he was well enough to go back to school full time in the fall, he had much less anxiety about returning because he had just spent time with children at camp.” It was easier for Max to see those other little sailboats that were now ahead of him. Without camp, sailing along with them would have been impossible. They would have just been specks out on the horizon so far in front of him.

Sailing analogies aside, Max sums up the power of Horizon Day Camp quite simply. “I loved camp because it was fun.” Mission accomplished!