An Open Love Letter To Camp Wapiyapi

My Dear, Sweet Camp Wapiyapi:

Oh, how I Love You.

You, a shining beacon of love that engulfs my children in a warm and glowing hug of gooey hope and acceptance; recruits loving and nearly impossible-to-believe humans who exude compassion and ridiculous amounts of cheer; encourages me to be a “smother” yet gives me the confidence that my delicate – yet tenacious – children are absolutely fine without me….

Oh, how I Love You.

From that first year I drove the 90 miles to your beautiful mountain setting in 2007 to today, my love for you withstands. I entrusted you with my precious seven-year-old. I was apprehensive to leave, yet wept at the concept of having this rite of passage – this normalcy – of sending my child to camp. Sure, it was a camp specifically for cancer kids, but it was priceless for someone like me who never anticipated – or felt secure enough – to leave their child in the care of others for a full five days. And as I watched from behind the wheel of my vehicle as my sweet boy confidently grasped the hand of his companion, I cried. The image forever burned in my mind of my heart incarnate as he held the hand of his much taller companion – a wonderful college boy named Chris – as they walked off toward their cabin, ready to make new, non-cancerous memories.

Oh, how I Love You.

You tout that you offer these children “The Best Week of the Year.” That’s a hefty claim, but one you consistently make good on. Many events in this world of pediatric cancer are “once in a lifetime” events. Gee. How do I explain this graciously? So many philanthropic hearts want to offer the pediatric cancer community something amazing – and we have had some incredible opportunities. I’ve appreciated them all, of course, but what I’m trying to say is that Camp Wapiyapi is CONSISTENT. It is something that my children look forward to every year. Even the year that Ben missed when the cancer came back or the year that he had to leave early because he had just started chemo. You remain a part of our FAMILY. Do you know what that means to me?

Oh. How I Love You.

And now that Madeline is old enough to go, it has been instrumental in her development. This is one of the things I LOVE MOST about Wapiyapi – the fact that Madeline is included. She has been able to bond with siblings just like her, who often feel forgotten PLUS have the ridiculous distinction of having to watch their sibling struggle through something so awful. She has learned that she is not alone. The silent shame that she carries – the fact that she gets a bit peeved when her brother gets cool stuff and she doesn’t – isn’t a burden at Camp Wapiyapi. Other siblings carry that, too. It’s NORMAL in our abnormal world. And the fact that Wapiyapi includes her, accepts her, and loves her – just as much as they love the children who have the cancer diagnosis – means the world to her. And to me. In fact, you saw her blossom this year when she stood alone on a stage in front of you and belted out a song in the talent show. She chose, “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” Any parent with a young girl living in their home knows this song – and perhaps is more than ready for this song to be a passing phase – but honestly? I would have loved to be in the audience listening to my daughter belt out something we’ve been working on… to simply “Let It Go.” But since I wasn’t in the audience, I am genuinely touched by all the people who came up to me yesterday to let me know what a beautiful job she did.

Oh, how I Love You.

I felt like a star yesterday when I pulled in to your stunning mountain setting. I opened my car door to a flood of adoring Ben and Madeline fans who longed to gush about my beautiful children. Your descriptors filled my heart: Sweet. Loving. Caring. Compassionate. Kind. Adorable. Amazing. Strong. Polite. Gracious. I can live on these words for a long time. But the super cool thing is that I know you offer these words to all of us. You LOVE our children. You sincerely, undoubtedly, whole-heartedly love our children.

Oh, how I Love You.

The joy you exude and instill in my children will keep us coming back for more. I hope that my children will want to be Junior Companions when their time comes. Ben’s companion this year – the AMAZING Tanner – has fought cancer twice. I would think there might be a time when a teenager/young adult who has fought for his life would want to leave all that behind. But the fact that Tanner stepped up to make the best of his horrific experience – that he was there to encourage my little fighter to keep on fighting – touched me to my core. You are an incredible young man, Tanner. I sincerely hope that my Ben and Maddy follow in your footsteps and offer their amazing insight just like you have. You are so very brave. I applaud Wapiyapi for giving you an environment to use those amazing talents. And Maddie, thank you for caring for my Maddy. I don’t know where Wapiyapi finds beautiful souls like you, but I’m forever grateful that you shared precious time with my daughter.

I know, I know. My cynical self doesn’t usually get this oozy when it comes to sharing the love. However, I simply cannot express my gratitude for Wapiyapi without it getting all sticky. You’re like a unicorn wrapped in the glossy threads of cotton candy. You can’t believe what you’re seeing is real. It’s so beautiful – and nearly mythical – that all these amazing people come together to care for these remarkable children. It’s almost like a mirage… the swirling beauty wavering behind the intense heat. And as we walk closer – the thirst for this beauty palpable in our dry throats begging for a sweet drink of love – fearful that you are actually a mirage and will disappear at any moment. When we arrive and are able to touch you, we weep in relief that you actually do exist.

You’re real. Thank goodness.

Oh, how I Love You.


Ben and Maddy’s Mom.




Join the Conversation


  1. It’s our greatest honor to be among heroes draped in children’s clothes. Being a sibling myself of a cancer patient and camper and volunteer of camp wapiyapi I say that there smiles drive us and motivate us. You are not alone in your love for this camp. It bring suspect to a new understanding that even time will never give us a true answer to. But we understand it and crave for it ever year.


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