On April 20th, the day after my last finals exam, I will attempt to overcome my fear of heights by abseiling down the frankly enormous Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth. From under a glass floor. In the dark. I am, to put it mildly, terrified. It’s never been done before either, except once during the day by the army. However, I’m doing it for Over The Wall – the charity founded by Paul Newman, which I’ve been volunteering for over the past five years – who provide free therapeutic activity camps designed to let kids affected by serious illness kick back and just be kids again.
I’m going to tell a short story to highlight what it’s like for a child to go through the initial stages of illness. I’m going to tell the story from the point of few of a sibling watching their little brother being told they are sick and will be having treatment for a while. One of my favourite aspects of camp is that we give siblings a whole camp to themselves and the joy they get from the undivided attention from so many volunteers is an incredible thing to experience.
So sit back, relax and enjoy this little story.
Let all your worries and thoughts from the day float away and leave you for just a little while. Forget for a short time where you have come from and where you are going. Let your mind slip back to before the hectic journey to work, the difficult situations you encountered today. Back before this busy week began and then fly back past university and even high school – back to they days where your biggest worries were convincing mum you really did need that extra set of Lego, when the sky wasn’t even the limit and you had never even heard of self-confidence, learning objectives or having to be ‘realistic’.
You are nine years old and your favourite thing to do in the whole world is to play cops and robbers with your little brother. Everyday after school you scoot home as fast as you can to bound to the toy box to grab your police hats and head to the garden for hours of fun in a world where the only rules are made by the sergeant, you and your brother. You sometimes have to slow down as he’s a little younger than you, but you don’t mind because it’s more fun protecting people from the baddies together than it could ever be alone. Adult rules and schedules disappear and are replaced with sirens and laughing until it hurts. Who cares if it’s school again tomorrow because the quicker it’s over the sooner you’ll be back to your world of giggles, mess and make-believe.
School’s out, your back home and about to grab your police hat for another round of cops and robbers when your mum calls you into the living room. You sigh, turn around and reluctantly do what your told, all ready to give her your best puppy-dog eyes. But as you enter the room you see it’s not just mum there, but your brother too and he doesn’t look as excited as he usually does to see you. Strangely, Dad is home too – hours before you ever remember him being back from work before. As you sit beside your little brother you know something is wrong when he slips his hand into yours and squeezes tight. Lots of talking happens next and you hear the words transplant, compromised and hospital but all you understand is that for a while it’s going to be up to you and your robber-chasing skills to man the station on your own.
It’s hard for you to keep up with everything that happens over the next year. There are some good times with family, but there are lots of lows which you don’t always understand. The sirens in cops and robbers have been replaced by more scary ones. The make-believe police cars replaced with real-life ambulances. You find yourself playing after school alone a lot, and miss having someone to join in with the fun. You get angry more and find it harder at school to relate to your friends as they don’t understand what you’re feeling. You just don’t know where you fit in amongst all the chaos, but you keep quiet and try to behave because you see how upset mum and dad seem to be now. You just want your brother better and everything to be back to normal.
Then one day over dinner your mum tells you that as your brother is feeling a bit better now, you’ve both been invited to a very special camp called “Over The Wall” during the school holidays. She says you’ll be going separately but you’re not to worry about your brother as you’ll be able to come back and teach your brother all the camp songs before it’s his turn to go later in the year.
You’re nervous, as your friends at school don’t understand what you’re going through, but then mum explains that all the other children at camp also have brothers and sisters who are sick and these kids come from all over the country! What’s more, you’ll also meet a whole bunch of friendly adults, called “Team Mates” who, unlike your teachers, are there to play cops and robbers all day. It sounds exciting, but you’re still a little nervous.
Then it hits you. The other campers and team mates are going to get it! They will understand how you feel and share the same fears as you do. They won’t act awkwardly around you and won’t mind if you’re more worried about some things than they are. For a whole week you get to finally relax and enjoy being you. You get to play. At camp, you get to be the sergeant again.
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THOM68 £x to 70070
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