Cancer | Children's | Community

Just being a kid – that’s the goal Camp Hope and Camp Rainbow staff hope to accomplish every summer. Each year ECU Health and the Department of Pediatrics Hematology/Oncology at the Brody School of Medicine make it possible for children with cancer, hemophilia and sickle cell disease to take part in summer camp.

Camp Rainbow is for children with cancer, hemophilia and children who have lost a sibling to one of these diseases, and Camp Hope is for children with sickle cell disease.

“Once the kids get to camp, start participating activities and get to know each other, they leave everything behind and just get to be kids,” said Jacque Sauls, child life specialist at the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at ECU Health and the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and director of Camp Hope and Camp Rainbow. “That is a blissful moment for all of the health care staff to be able to watch a child we see in the hospital all the time being a kid and having a great time.”

Children at Camp Hope pose for a photo during a day at the site.
Children at Camp Hope pose for a photo during a day at the site.

ECU Health and Brody team members develop camping programs to provide pediatric patients an opportunity to learn more about themselves and their illness, participate in fun activities like swimming, canoeing, archery, crafts, music and drama, all while making life-long friendships with other children with similar conditions and experiences. Over 60 campers from 25 counties in eastern North Carolina came this year.

“These kids are often protected and sheltered a little bit because they can’t do all the things other kids can do because of their illnesses, or they’re afraid of infections or normal camps don’t have the health care they need,” said Sauls. “Here, they can do every camp activity. There are no limits.”

While at camp, children receive 24-hour medical care and close medical monitoring by their ECU Health care teams including physicians, nurses, child life and social workers.

“All of the children take medicine because of their conditions, so when they take it together, they realize, ‘You have to do this just like I do,’ and know they’re not alone,” said Sauls.

The vast majority of camp volunteers and counselors are former campers themselves, having experienced sickle cell, bleeding disorders or cancer. This shared background allows them to form a special connection with the campers, having faced similar challenges, treatments and experiences. These volunteers return to camp to ensure that today’s kids receive the same transformative experience they once did.

“It’s one of the most important things we do at camp because they get to meet children going through the same thing they’re going through or have gone through,” said Sauls. “The kids get to have mentors that have gone what they’ve gone through and are now in college. They get to see that just because you have a chronic illness or have had cancer you can’t do all the things you want to accomplish in life.”

This is true for camp volunteer Daniel Everett, who attended Camp Hope starting in 2017. When he graduated high school in 2021, he decided to volunteer at the camp.

“I have sickle cell myself, and for me as a kid to come to camp was a dream,” Everett said. “It was magical. It was a place I could go that I knew I was going to have fun, and it was a place I felt right at home.”

Now as a counselor, Everett makes the same impact on the new campers.

“It’s really awesome seeing the kids enjoy themselves, especially when they come from a background of pain, they may be going through treatment,” Everett said. “It’s just nice to see them come here to take a breather like, ‘I can be myself,’ because they’re accepted here.”

Everett is beginning college in the fall, and Sauls noted how important it is for the campers to see someone with the same disease as them accomplishing their goals.

One volunteer, however, is not a former patient. Dr. Ashish Khanchandani recently graduated from the Brody School of Medicine at ECU and is beginning his residency in Pediatrics at ECU Health Medical Center. Dr. Khanchandani volunteered during his gap between medical school graduation and residency to make sure the campers have fun and to assist in any medical needs the campers may have.

“The goal of us as volunteers is to make sure the kids can go about their day without any major medical issues,” Dr. Khanchandani said. “It has been fun being like a camp counselor. I’ve done all the activities with my kids like paddle boarding, all while making sure they’re doing it safely.”

Sauls said she was especially grateful for Dr. Khanchandani’s expertise when it comes to his group of campers. His group has Daniel Perez, a camper who survived brain cancer at two years old, losing his vision. Perez was diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg at age nine and underwent chemotherapy. Thanks to the help from Dr. Khanchandani and another camper named Esra Lupton, Perez has been able to participate in every single activity.

“Daniel and Esra met at this camp for the first time, and they go everywhere together,” said Sauls. “Esra takes him from place to place. It’s a friendship you would never be able to make somewhere else.”

Perez, like the other campers, has loved his time at Camp Rainbow. He said coming to camp helps him de-stress and forget about the medical stress going on his day-to-day life.

Two campers and a volunteer pose for a photo near the water at Camp Rainbow.
Two campers and a volunteer pose for a photo near the water at Camp Rainbow.

Camp Rainbow and Camp Hope are offered free of charge to children with chronic illnesses and were made possible this year by generous support and donations from the ECU Health Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, Inc., Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals/ECU Health Foundation, the Pamlico Neuse Women’s Coalition, the James and Mamie Richardson Perkins Trust, the Mildred Sheffield Wells Charitable Trust, Riley’s Army, Jaylen’s Nation, Ms. Tammy Thompson, Beau’s Buddies, China Kitchen of Robersonville and other individuals and civic organizations. To learn more, please visit: