Camp A.O.K. helps teens cope with cancer

HOUSTON It gives kids in various stages of fighting cancer the chance to just be kids.

"I was diagnosed with cancer and they they found it was Berkman's lymphoma," camper Caitlin Mortus said.

The stories from other kids at Camp A.O.K. are painfully similar.

"It came back when I was 15 for a third time," camper Frank Velasquez said. "It was a different kind of cancer, renal cell carcinoma."

All of these teenage campers in Montgomery County share one thing – an experience with cancer. They are all patients at the Children's Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson, or have a sibling who is currently being treated there. In fact, A.O.K. is an acronym for "Anderson's Older Kids." All of the campers are ages 13 to 18.

"We have some very fragile kids, some kids on treatment, recently diagnosed, some that are off treatment, and we have their siblings," camp director Linda Blankenship said.

There are nurses and a doctor there around the clock, but other than that, Camp A.O.K. looks like a regular camp, from the fishing and the pool, to the sports, including floor hockey games.

The point is to let the kids be kids, and to let their painful experiences go, if only for a week.

Camper Mark Anthony Olazaba has a brother with cancer.

"He was so sick, I didn't think he was going to go with it, but he actually did," Olazaba said.

But, this camp is making things easier.

"This is the best time I've had all summer," Velasquez said.

It's a sentiment echoed by the other campers.

"They just know what you've been through," Mortus said. "They've experienced the same thing, so they know what it feels like."

The camp culminates with a prom, designed especially for those patients who have missed the opportunity to attend their own high school dance.

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