Camp eases woes for cancer patients

By Emily LeCoz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Cancer survivors who for two days endured dark skies and rain basked in the late afternoon sun Saturday at Camp Bluebird.
The warm rays brought smiles, not only because it felt good, but because, for some, it symbolized their fight with cancer.
“You’ve got to face the rain to see the sun again,” said Beverly Heard, a Pontotoc resident diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.
Heard has been in remission since February 2009. It’s her second time at Camp Bluebird.
Co-sponsored by North Mississippi Medical Center and the AT&T Pioneers, the camp is for adults who have been diagnosed with cancer. It’s held twice a year and offers campers a way to play, rest and socialize with people who understand their struggles.
It typically draws four dozen campers per session, and each is paired with his or her own personal counselor during the weekend getaways. Nurses and spiritual aids also attend to provide their services.
The most recent camp was held April 23-25 at Tombigbee State Park.
“Some are in treatment, some are in remission,” said Cornell Smith, who heads the Pioneers. “It’s nice to have those who already survived mentor the ones still going through treatment. And the relationships that form last beyond camp.”
The first time Heard attended she was leery of the whole concept. She had just finished chemotherapy and still struggled to accept what had happened to her. But it didn’t take long to change her tune.
“All the people here see you as an individual instead of an invalid,” Heard said. “Everyone is loving, everyone has a kind heart, everyone is willing to comfort you.”
And now, Heard said, she wants to comfort those still struggling with their own situations. That’s one reason why she returned to Camp Bluebird this year, she said.
It’s also why so many people continue to come back.
“Camp Bluebird has quite a loyal following,” said its director, Cheri Nipp. “Many of our campers and counselors come back year after year because the experience helped them at a time in their lives when they needed it, and they also enjoy spending time with the many special friends that they have made.”
Among those to return are counselors Dora Kessler and Katina Holland, each of whom have logged four years of volunteer service at Camp Bluebird. Both said they probably get as much joy out of the experience as do the campers.
“When you come here,” Holland said, “whatever your problems are they just melt.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.