A Camp for Kids With Crohn’s and Colitis
By Sneha Dave Aug. 6, 2015 | 10:18 a.m. EDT + More
As I reflect back on an amazing week at Camp Oasis – a camp for kids with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – I find the four years I have been able to attend this camp have had a lasting impact on me.
Established by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, the camp has shown me that there are other people, especially teens, suffering with the same problems I face. Having the opportunity to relate to them allowed me to gain a whole new perspective on my disease.
Diagnosed at age 6 with colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, my mom sheltered me from society, fearing that people wouldn’t be able to understand the disease. Like many other diseases, colitis is complex, and it causes embarrassing issues, including frequently needing to use the restroom. So it’s difficult to talk about, especially with kids and teens. But as I soon learned there were other kids facing the same challenges, I felt more comfortable communicating with people about this disease.
Sneha Dave attended Camp Oasis, for kids with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, at YMCA Camp Copneconic in Fenton, Michigan.
When I first heard about Camp Oasis, I couldn’t imagine going to a camp for a week, away from my family, with all my medical struggles. But as I approached sixth grade, I felt it was time to break out.
My family and I began to attend education conferences, where I was fortunate to make an amazing friend. He encouraged me to attend Camp Oasis, convincing me that I would have a great time. Unfortunately, the first year I attended with him was the last year I would be going with him, as he passed away from osteosarcoma, a bone cancer.
The first year of camp, I went as an underweight middle schooler who looked extremely young. My cheeks were puffed up by steroids I was prescribed to lessen the extreme inflammation I had at the time, and I used the restroom incessantly and had resulting accidents. I was on so many medications, yet I still attended. I went for the support I subconsciously knew I needed.
Although there were certainly other kids who were sick, the flare-up of my disease made me want to rest frequently in the camp medical center. Meanwhile, the staff made every attempt to rid me of thoughts relating to my sickness, and did so successfully. I was still able to participate in almost every activity and make amazing friendships. Despite how sick I was, that first year of camp allowed me to learn and grow beyond my disease.
Though I wasn’t able to go every year due to numerous health issues and surgeries, I looked forward to intermittently attending Camp Oasis. It was the best week of my year.
It felt amazing to be understood, and I realized I didn’t have to fight colitis alone. The feeling that you get when you are able to relate to others in your position just consumes every part of you and truly makes dealing with the disease a whole lot easier.
Through Camp Oasis, I have gained much more than lifelong support from amazing people.
Previously, I was able to do simple tasks after returning from major flare-ups, when the disease became really active and inflammation levels were extremely high. But I still was not as independent as I wanted to be. This camp proved to me that I could take care of myself. It gave me a sense of confidence that I could live on my own and be independent with this disease.
It was the positivity and the “forget about your disease” for a week kind of attitude that really made camp an unforgettable experience. There’s nothing cooler than looking up to your counselors, who have the same disease as you, and seeing how much they have achieved, despite having a medical condition that undeniably tested their strength.
This year was my final year as a camper, so I became a leader in training. In this role, I was able to help younger campers dealing with Crohn’s and colitis. Being able to see younger kids endure such devastating diseases is inspiring, and helped me put aside any negativity. Even though I can’t remember life without ulcerative colitis, there is something about the innocence of younger kids dealing with inflammatory bowel disease that can put your struggles into perspective.
Attending Camp Oasis has been a life-changing experience for me. I felt supported through some of the toughest times, and I know it’s had a positive impact on so many kids’ lives, including mine. It took away the feeling of loneliness I experienced while I was sick and gave me something to look forward to each year.
Such camps are important for all children with chronic illnesses to attend. I encourage any kid or teen with a chronic illness to explore going into a camp that could provide them with feelings of belonging, camaraderie and joy.
Sometimes it’s difficult to realize that you need support, but there is no doubt that knowing you aren’t the only one facing challenges associated with having a chronic condition makes any situation better.