Clinical Center News
Fall 2021

Virtual and vital: Camp Fantastic reaches kids with cancer

Week-long camp moves online during the pandemic

Travis is a Camp Fantastic participant
Travis participated in Camp Fantastic, both in person and online.

For nearly 40 years, kids with cancer in treatment at the NIH National Cancer Institute Pediatric Oncology Branch and other area treatment centers get a special treat each summer – a week at Camp Fantastic, located in Front Royal, Va.

Operated by Special Love, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with cancer and their families, it's a week filled with an array of summer camp activities, allowing campers to meet and socialize with others also in treatment.

Virtual camping doesn't hold back pediatric cancer patients
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Camp Fantastic has been a virtual experience in 2020 and 2021, but the online-savvy kids made the most of it. They participated in varied and imaginative activities that can be shared through a screen, with "Build A Volcano," "D.I.Y. Dino" and "Pet Tornados" replacing the in-person activities of a summer camp. The virtual campers found out that online crafting is still possible!

Travis, one of the attendees shared why he enjoys the annual camp. "I liked virtual Camp Fantastic because I got to still see my old friends and make new friends. I don't think about my medical problems while I'm at camp."

"We have always supported Camp Fantastic and it remains an amazing service for our patients and their families. It is also important to our clinical team seeing our patients having fun outside of the hospital. The past two years have been challenging, but for me it really highlighted what an amazing ‘family' the Camp Fantastic community is," said Dr. Jack Shern, a physician scientist in NCI's Center for Cancer Research Pediatric Oncology Branch.

Jan Bresch, Special Love's Executive Director stated, "Camp Fantastic was our first program and it remains the hallmark of our services to children with cancer and their families. The COVID pandemic has intensified the isolation and stress of children with cancer and their families, so the community and connection our Virtual Camp Fantastic provided to them has been even more crucial in 2020 and 2021."

"It was so great to see the NIH medical staff's creativity as they joined us in adapting to provide online activities that engaged the kids," added Special Love's Director of Outreach and Programs Dave Smith.

While everyone involved hopes for a return to the Camp Fantastic campground, all agreed that an energetic effort created an unforgettable time for this year's campers.

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