September is International Childhood Cancer Awareness month and to mark it, we wanted to share some incredible stories from some of our Amazing Camper Heroes. Last week, we shared Elsie Mae’s story with you, which you can read here. This week, we would love to introduce you to Laura, who is a very special camper hero. Read more below.
International Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
Camper Hero: Laura Nicholls
“Barretstown is my favourite place in the world. There’s no other way to describe it. It has changed my life, and I really mean that.” – Laura.
In 2005, 12-year-old Laura was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Normally a very outgoing individual, she became shy, quiet, felt alone and ended up losing a lot of confidence in herself. That was until she found Barretstown. In 2007, during her final year of treatment, Laura attended Teen Camp during the summer. For Laura, this was a huge turning point for her. “I made friends who knew exactly what I was going through and who I could speak to about anything. I did activities like high ropes, horses, canoeing, archery - all activities I had never done before or thought I couldn’t do. For the first time in years, I had fun. I laughed so hard I cried and did not want to leave.”
When Laura left Barretstown and headed home, she noticed a considerable change in herself and her outlook. “Everything just seemed so much more optimistic. I gained more confidence and started to really enjoy life again.” Laura attended camp again in 2008 when she had finished her treatment. “I surprised myself with what I achieved, like jumping off the trapeze at the high ropes course, singing karaoke on stage, and of course dancing without a care in the world at dinner time. I went home that year knowing I had to keep coming back. I was doing well in school, catching up with everyone, gaining more and more confidence and becoming my old self again.”
From Camper to Leader
Laura came back to camp for a third time in 2009 as a camper, but her journey wasn’t to end there. In 2010, Laura applied to be part of the Camper Leadership Programme, a leadership programme at Barretstown for previous campers to teach and develop life skills that can be used outside of camp, as well as learning about camp from behind the scenes. “We spent the week with 3 caras learning and discussing about being a leader and what it involves. We also spent time shadowing different activity leaders and caras, helping them to look after the kids, including evening programmes, one of which involved me having wet sponges thrown at my face by the campers. Camp created such a special place in my heart that I always knew I wanted to come back as a cara, and give back to others what camp gave to me. I started volunteering in 2012 as soon as I was old enough to and I really haven’t looked back since.“
I continued volunteering at kids, teen and family camps before coming to work full time as part of the camp team in summer of 2018. As well as being part of the camp team, I’ve also volunteered many days with the Hospital Outreach Programme, and last year had the very special experience of volunteering for the day in the hospital, and on the very same ward, where someone first introduced me to Barretstown and suggested I look into going.
This year at camp has obviously brought on huge challenges, but it’s fantastic to be part of finding new ways to reach campers and families at home. It was bizarre to experience camp this summer without it's usual buzz and loudness, but bringing the madness and magic of camp into families’ homes through presenting virtual camps has been brilliant. We were definitely thrown into a new way of running camp, but knowing that a part of Barretstown, even if it’s just for a day, is making its way into the homes of those who need it the most makes it all worthwhile.
Your Support Changes Lives
Right now, all over Ireland, there are thousands of children whose lives are on hold while they’re coping with serious illnesses. So many are missing out on the happy childhood that every child deserves. Your support is allowing us to reach more and more children and their families who desperately need our life-changing therapeutic camps and programmes now more than ever. Thank you for helping us to spread the Magic!Donate Today