ATLANTA – At morning roll call at Aurora Day Camp, and 7-year-old Kennedy Seaborn, a rising first-grader from Sandy Springs, Georgia, is ready to get things going.
Her mother Erica Seaborn says this camp is a big deal for her daughter.
“She’s super happy and excited to be here every single morning,” Seaborn says. “The first thing she says when she wakes up every morning is, ‘Are we going to camp?'”
This is Kennedy Seaborn’s first time at Aurora Day Camp, surrounded by kids ages 3-and-a-half through 16, who are either cancer patients, or survivors like her, or their siblings.
Kennedy is a 5-year survivor of a glioblastoma, or cancerous brain tumor.
Diagnosed as an infant, she went through brain surgery, then two years of chemotherapy, and then weeks of radiation treatments.
“She had her right frontal lobe dissected, or removed, so she has the execute functions that she struggles with,” her mother says. “She likes a very calm environment. She’s very introverted. And, I feel like her week at Aurora has really brought her out of her shell. She’s been a lot more talkative, a lot more social with other kids.”
For 6 weeks, from early June to mid-July, about 150 kids will soak in the summer day camp experience, coming for as many sessions as they would like, all of it free and hands-on, with about one counselor for every 3 campers.
“One of the things I think is really special about Aurora is we don’t really tell our counselors which kids have cancer and which ones don’t, because we want them to treat every single child just like a normal kid,” says Gregory Hill, executive director of Aurora Day Camp.
Kennedy’s mother says there is also a fully-staffed medical team.
“So, you have the peace of mind of knowing she is safe, in the case of a medical emergency,” she says.
While summer camp may feel like a given for many families, the camp’s volunteer medical director, pediatric oncologist and hematologist Dr. Daniel Bergsagel says, for his patients, this experience feels like a real gift.
“To them, it’s like a European vacation in the middle of the year of treatment,” Dr. Bergsagel says. “They get away from it all, and they’re with different people. They’re not talking about cancer all day long.”
Even with the protective masks, the camp offers is a taste of normalcy, for kids whose lives have been on hold for the last two and half years of the pandemic.
“The children that I treat only interacted with their immediately family members and the people they meet in the clinic, and that’s anything but normal,” Bergsagel says. “Here, they interact with people from all walks of life, old, young, siblings.
While most of the camper chose water activities, Kennedy tried martial arts, knowing her brother Dean, was close by doing his own thing.
“It changes the conversation at the dinner table for these families,” Hill says. “So, it’s not about one child going to cancer camp and one going to sports camp. It’s about what they did together, and the shared experience they had together.”
And, for Kennedy Seaborn, the summer is just getting started.
“She’ll most definitely be back,” her mother says.
Aurora Day Camp runs through July 14, 2022.
They are still accepting children into the week-long sessions.