***This post is written in conjunction with Kids Business. This is a true story as it was told to me***
Nathan Lester knew he wanted to volunteer with Camp Quality in some way, what he didn’t anticipate was having his entire life enriched, broken open, torn to pieces and put back together again.
I interviewed Nathan to get more of an insider’s view of the work that Camp Quality does because they are not just a camp that is a a support for children with cancer, but also for children whose parents are affected by the disease, and siblings who are in homes affected by cancer.
The camp itself is annual, but the relationships last as long as a lifetime, however long that may be.
This is Nathan’s story.
I was thinking I’d get onboard Camp Quality as a camp photographer but they decided to take me on as what they call a companion.
The weekend training for camp was the first time I realised the how an entire family is affected by cancer. If you have any inkling of illness you can’t go near the kids, your marriage can be under great stress and financial pressure can cripple you.
Listening to the families discuss how hard it is from the second a child is diagnosed was confronting and many of us were in tears.
At my first camp I met this funky eight and a half year old kid called Rhys and we really hit it off. He requested for me to be his companion for the following camp, but we stayed in touch throughout the year and then for the next 4 years for a roller coaster ride of treatments and friendship.
I’d call him and drop over to his place and hang out with his parents and younger brother. We all became close.
For a while his treatment was going ok and he had hair. Rhys was smart. He used his illness to reach out to people, speaking on the local radio to talk about causes he was passionate about. To this day people in Canberra still remember him.
Rhys was really into magic and he loved the performance night at camp. That second year at camp we performed a magic show together and I was his assistant and I wore a suit made out of bubble wrap. It was awesome but it was also a really hot night I almost passed out from overheating, but it was so worth it.
Two years later when Rhys was 11 we hit a road bump in his treatment. He already had one form of leukaemia and now he was diagnosed with a second form of leukaemia so Rhys had to go to Sydney for treatment in January and he wasn’t well enough to go to camp. I went to the bus stop to farewell everyone for camp, and then I got in my car and drove to Sydney to be with Rhys during his treatment at Ronald MacDonald house.
I had the schedule for camp, so when everyone at camp went to the lake, Rhys and I went to the beach for fish and chips. I tried to replicate what was going on at camp so my friend didn’t completely miss out.
I have a theory in life that if you ask for the ultimate, and if you’re happy with getting less than the ultimate the you’ll be happy with whatever you get so I wrote to Dick Smith and told him that there was this kid that I was doing Camp Quality with but he was too sick to go, and it would be great if Dick could fly us in his helicopter to Orange so Rhys could go to camp for a day.
Dick Smith was unable to help us with the chopper ride but he sent us money for flights.
Rhys had to have a platelet infusion the day before we went and his parents let me do that with him. I was his companion for everything that week just like I would be at camp. The next day Rhys, his younger brother and I flew over to camp for the performance day, and they were treated like rock stars.
Camp for me was all about Rhys. Without him I didn’t want to be there, and I just wanted him to have fun.
A month later we were told that his treatment wasn’t working and that things weren’t going to plan. The battle was pretty much lost.
Rhys and his father stood in front of a panel of doctors to receive the news and they asked his father what they wanted to do, his father replied –
“Ask the kid. It’s his body.”
At the tender age of eleven and half Rhys decide to pull the pin on his treatment and ride the wave from there. Rhys passed away a couple of months later.
Rhys was one of those old souls in a young body, one of those kids that could talk to a four or a 40 year old. There were some sad moments in our journey but they were completely outweighed by the awesome fun we had.
I was pretty torn up by everything but I really wanted to keep doing camp so that first year after he passed I went with Rhys’ brother, as he was doing it tough after losing Rhys. It was almost like a week long therapy session for both of us. Now, Rhys’ family is like my family. His parents are godparents to my son, and I stay in regular contact with them.
I stayed with Camp Quality for another 8 or so years and I met many other fantastic kids and families. Some survived and some didn’t make it and all of them left a mark, but Rhys was the one for me. He and I just got each other.
People used to say that it was so sad because he was taken so young, but I don’t think he was taken too young. He was young when he went, but I think he was here for a purpose. Here was here for a reason. I believe each of us has something to do in this life and Rhys touched hundreds of people with his bravery and strength and his essence.
He had done what he was put here to do.
The anniversary of Rhys’ passing is coming up on the 16th of April, so let’s take a moment to think about the the lives that Camp Quality touches every day.
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