COLUMN: Children’s camp opens adult’s eyes
If I had to describe Dave Mackenzie, I’d say he is a man possessed of a powerful inner calm.
Mackenzie is the camp director of Camp Goodtimes. A camp for children with cancer – a place they can go for a week in the summer to forget about what they’re going through and just be kids for a few days.
Camp Goodtimes is one of the primary pediatric cancer programs Tour de Rock Cops for Cancer supports. Each team of riders tours the camp in July and spends an evening running a casino night with the kids.
The camp sits next to an alpine lake in the mountains on the property of a forestry research centre above Maple Ridge.
It runs seven weeks each summer when about 600 kids visit. There’s a week set aside for children and their families, too.
It’s like every other summer camp with kayaking, a zip line and swimming, except everything is designed to be accessible by children who might have physical disabilities resulting from cancer.
Mackenzie tours us around the facility, which has been there since 2004, talks about food budgets, operating costs and other statistics. As we listened, I started to realize there’s more to him than what you see at first glance, something more than a summer camp leader who’s going to guide you through his program.
Some of the camp’s staff and volunteers are former campers. There’s a medical team on site to deal with the children’s particular needs and medication.
Some of the children are palliative when they come to the camp and some who have been there before will choose to return one last time, even though they know being there might shorten what little time they have left.
Some of those children come to camp with a “do not resuscitate” order. Few statements in my experience have struck home as immediately and deeply as that one.
Mackenzie’s voice breaks.
“Emotional demands can be pretty high here,” he said.
The age range of the children at camp this week is six to 18.
We eat, get team pictures shot by the lake and set up for casino night.
I run a black jack table. Combining two decks of playing cards definitely stacks the odds in the kids’ favour. They bet Buckeroos – paper play money they turn in for prizes or use to ‘buy’ books and school supplies for children in underdeveloped countries. Whatever the kids turn in for school supplies is matched with real money through a charity organization to buy and ship them. I notice most of the kids use their winnings for the school supplies.
The kids sitting around my table didn’t look sick. They’re great looking kids. Some are heavy betters. Others are cautious with their ‘cash’. There’s noise from the games and music blaring. We’re having a blast. I think, “How can these children have cancer?”
Mackenzie’s statement from earlier hits home again and I have to shove it aside. Some of these children might not be at this table next year. Hell, any of us might not be around next year.
One thing I’ve learned over the past couple years being with friends who have had cancer and didn’t make it, is that we’re all here now, having fun and there’s no point, in this moment, in worrying about possible futures.
And we keep laughing as I deal the cards, dare them to bet heavy and they clean out the house again.
I get why Mackenzie is so dedicated to his work and understand the thing about him I couldn’t put my finger on earlier is that his work is something that will likely never fall within my frame of experience.
“It can be pretty exciting hearing a kid come back and talk about his experience kayaking like it was a zip line,” Mackenzie said.