8/6/2009 10:31:00 PM Camp Rainbow finds strength in numbers
Les Stukenberg/ The Daily Courier The 25th Annual Camp Rainbow brought together cancer survivors, friends - and, of course, pizza. Campers surround Ken Heinderleiter, who donated the pizza lunch for a third year.
PRESCOTT - The 115 boisterous children camping this week at Prescott's Friendly Pines Camp look like any other summer camp group, but they are not - each one is a cancer survivor.
"As adults, we get a diagnosis and understand what that means, but kids don't know what cancer means," Jeremy Kraut-Ordover, of Phoenix Children's Hospital said.
"Our goal at Camp Rainbow is to keep as much of the medicine out of it as possible, and let them be kids while they're here."
One week each year, for the past 25 years, Phoenix Children's Hospital busses its child-patients to Prescott for Camp Rainbow. The campers, called Rainbow Kids, hike, canoe, learn archery, climb trees, clean their cabins and for the second year in a row - have a pizza party.
"It's so good to see them happy and forget their troubles for awhile," Ken Hinderleiter, 94, said. Hinderleiter feels a special bond to the children's trials and tribulations - he has been blind most of his adult life.
To celebrate overcoming adversity, he bought 50 Costco pizzas and treated the children to a pizza party Wednesday. This is the second year he feted the children, and it is a tradition that he intends to continue as long as the Rainbow Kids want pizza.
The children in return treated him to songs and dances.
The Rainbow Kids, an independent-minded group of youngsters if ever there was, modified some words in the finale song, "I Can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash.
Nash finishes each stanza in his song with the lyrics, "It's gonna be a bright, bright, bright, bright Sun-Shiny day." The Rainbow Kids shook the dining room rafters when they sang, "It's gonna be a bright, bright, bright, bright Cancer-Free day."
"This is a good place to be," Megan DeRosia, 15 said. When Megan was 13, doctors diagnosed her with brain cancer.
"I like it here. I like it a lot," said the up-beat teenager. "You don't have to worry about falling down flat on your face and getting laughed at. It's a big family here."
Natalee Lauro, 16, worked up an appetite for pizza by climbing a Ponderosa pine tree and zipping down a long cable to friends waiting downhill in a far-away field. In 2003, Natalee found out she had multiple brain tumors. Doctors gave her a 20 percent chance of survival.
"There is a real survivor," Kraut-Ordover said while Natalee buckled in for her zip ride. A documentary film about Natalee is available online at www.pchhandprints.org. Natalee is the pink hand.
"These kids have a real appreciation for their independence," Kraut-Ordover said.
Although this is Hinderleiter's second year to throw a pizza party, it is his third year visiting Camp Rainbow. Some of the Rainbow Kids remembered him from previous visits, and he frequently wonders how the children are doing.
"It just makes my heart glad to see them laughing and playing," he said. "You never would think anything is wrong with them."
About 70 volunteers help the Phoenix Children's Hospital staff during Camp Rainbow.
"Some of these kids were in-patients as recently as last week, and some could be in the hospital by next week," Kraut-Ordover said.
"One thing I learned here is that no cancer is worse than another," Megan said. "We all go through pain.
"There's heart pain because you miss your old self or emotional pain. But the best part about this camp is meeting other kids that are going through cancer and beating it."
To learn more about Camp Rainbow or the Phoenix Children's Hospital, visit pchrainbowkids.org.