Posted by: Renae Abboud
When I first met her I knew she would be special to my experiences at Camp Agape. She had no worry or concern of what others thought. She openly and without care wore her emotions on her sleeve. She would sing loudly and dance with her headphones on even though her limited communication skills made it difficult for others to understand her. And she was free from the social obligations we all experience daily.
I had the privilege of spending my volunteer time at Camp Agape dedicated to being her buddy. We practiced archery, painted her nails bright blue, walked in the sand by the river and buried my feet, made a necklace to wear for her special night, and more. She constantly talked about her favorite TV show, loved to try and put my hair in a ponytail, got excited and laughed when she caught 2 fish in the pond, and got frustrated when people didn’t understand her. I watched her tear up when she struggled to get up the stairs from the river and cry when her bright blue nail polish chipped. And with each day she showed she had more trust in our friendship as she put her hand over my shoulder, pulled my arm so that I was closer to her, and eventually shared her music headphones with me.
On our final day together at Camp Agape we sat in the grass watching other children play a water balloon game. She leaned against me but her weight was pressing hard on my right leg. I told her that it hurts when she presses against my leg because I had surgery there from cancer. All of the kids at Camp Agape were touched by cancer, including her. Immediately she looked at me with a sweet compassion. She sat up, taking her weight off of me, and although difficult to understand her she asked me where. I pointed while telling her that I had surgery on my leg and that it still makes my leg hurt when people press on it. She was empathetic in her soft expression and it wasn’t with a look of pity. It was a look that said, “I understand.” With her limited ability to verbalize, I still sensed her understanding of who I was. An understanding of why I was there as her buddy. And an understanding of the love that comes from Camp Agape.
I knew that final night at camp was going to be emotional. As the parents and children with cancer stood up to share their experiences and thanks to the Camp Agape team for the opportunities they gave the families, the word that kept coming up was love. Kids with cancer kept saying that they were so happy to step away from the reality of their world of cancer and be filled with the love they received at this special camp. I remembered these same feelings as well. When I was diagnosed I wanted everything to just be back to normal. To be the person I was and to forget about the daily reminders of cancer. To provide them this opportunity, this love, was priceless.
If you walked the camp you may not have even noticed which kids had cancer and who the siblings were. But it didn’t matter because each child was there to be free. Free from the pain, free from the fear… free from cancer. You would hear the constant giggles and see them running, laughing, playing, and embracing the joys and excitement that Camp Agape brought them. And most importantly you would feel the love, the agape filling the heart of each special person. Thank you Camp Agape (αγάπη) Camp Love. And thank you to my buddy.
Renae Abboud has been in remission from cancer since 1997. She volunteers at Camp Agape as the committee head of our Children’s Activities. She is the mother of three boys, and finds comfort and purpose in giving her extra time to cancer awareness and support.