Camp COCO, established in 1986, is a member of the Children’s Oncology Camping Association International (COCA), an organization that establishes safety and operational guidelines and practices specific to camps for children with cancer. Camp COCO's goal is to care for special kids, build self-confidence, create bonds of friendship and hope, and support families. More than 140 children, ages 6-17, attend Camp COCO each year. Siblings of young campers are also invited to attend!
Camp week is held at an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant camp in the heart of central Illinois to accommodate children with disabilities resulting from their cancer treatment. SIU School of Medicine’s pediatrics staff volunteers, including an oncologist, nurses, child life specialists and other area health professionals, provide around-the-clock care. A full staff of qualified counselors are also on-site at all times.
Childhood with Cancer
Cancer terrifies most people. Many of us even find it difficult to say the word.
An estimated 60,000 children in this country suffer from cancer, with more diagnosed each year. For those children, having cancer means they have to grow up very quickly. Overnight, they find themselves dealing with adult-sized problems. They must face a host of devastating treatments and the prospect of death, something they do with disarming honesty.
These children may endure intense radiation, bone marrow transplants, operations to remove tumors, amputation of affected limbs, chemotherapy, spinal taps, and countless tests and visits to the hospital. Treatments and medication can cause hair loss, severe nausea, loss of growth, seizures, learning impairment and some loss of movement in limbs.
Additionally, young cancer patients have to cope with numerous emotional challenges. While still trying to keep up with their studies and school schedules, they must face life surrounded by people who don’t understand cancer or who are afraid of it, school friends whose parents tell them not to be friends anymore, and classmates who laugh at them because they’ve lost their hair or, perhaps, a leg.
Camp with a Purpose
Advances in pediatric cancer treatment have changed the outlook from hopeless desperation to hopeful determination. But not all of society has heard the good news. Well-intentioned individuals fearing the worst often deny children with cancer the chance to be “normal kids.” On top of intense medical treatments, children with cancer often experience social and emotional challenges that survivors describe as equally, or more, devastating than the physical pain and limitations caused by the cancer.
At SIU Medicine and Camp COCO, we believe children with cancer must play, learn, interact with peers and experience the triumphs and defeats of childhood to continue to grow and prosper. Our goal is to prevent medical triumphs from becoming social disasters. By the nature of their illness and treatment, many children with cancer aren’t able to consistently participate in usual childhood activities. However, with present therapies, an appropriate environment and well-reasoned advice, the majority of children will be able to participate normally, preventing the detrimental effects of social isolation.
At Camp COCO, we're developing campers' self-confidence and independence, helping them meet new friends and foster relationships, and inspire new interests and abilities.