AUSTIN - Cancer is a disease that has impacted the lives of so many and changed plans out of nowhere for all types of parents. One Austin organization trying to support these families is focusing on something else that sometimes goes unnoticed.
Any Baby Can is a nonprofit that supports parents and their children, trying to help them through difficult situations and diseases. One of the organization's programs is Camp Grey Dove, a week-long camp in Killeen, Texas that allows kids who have siblings with cancer to enjoy simply being kids.
Allison Bautista is the a program director for Any Baby Can as well as the camp director for Camp Grey Dove. She said this camp has elements that differentiate it from others going on at the same time.
"It gives these siblings (a chance) to have the spotlight and shine for a bit," Bautista said. "It really just gives them a chance to kind of work through their experiences."
Penny Yanez is an Austin mom with four children. Her oldest 15-year-old son, Jim, is in remission with acute lymphoctic leukemia.
"It started when he was 8 years old," Yanez said. "The toughest part is dealing with the family when he is in the hospital. Trying to give the other children the attention that they need and trying to take care of them."
Yanez first heard about Any Baby Can from her social worker and then eventually the camp.
"This is a way to take a bit of the stress off the other kids," Yanez said. "The whole program is unique. It gives them a relief and a new focus to just have fun."
All three of Yanez' other kids -- Datonia, Quaylon and Aden -- have attended the camp in the past and are going again this summer. Aden said he always make new friends every summer.
"It's fun to meet new people," Aden said. "It's always a blast."
Datonia said it is easy to communicate with people at this camp, no matter whether they are actually talking about cancer and the situations their families are in.
"We all know how each other feels," Datonia said. "We know we are all going through the same thing."
Russell Sweet used to be a camper at Camp Grey Dove. He's converted to a counselor now. His sister had brain cancer when she was 10 years old, and his dad also had brain cancer as an adult. He said this camp gives a necessary distraction for campers and counselors.
"It gives you a lot of time to just forget and it gives you a week away from life," Sweet said. "We kind of cope with that without even mentioning it. We just kind of forget and have fun."
Soon-to-be 8th grader Allison Fishbaugh had a brother with cancer when she was very little. Even though she wasn't aware of everything going on, she knew it took a toll on her parents as well as her brother.
"It was hard for my parents because my dad had to work a lot more and my mom had to stay with my brother," Fishbaugh said. "Me and my sister were kind of alone a lot, too."
Jose Guzman, who is about to go become a 5th grader, saw one of his family members take a turn for the worst. Guzman lost his sister, who was 11 at the time, to leukemia.
"You don't get them back, and it's like your world just turns around," Guzman said.
For Guzman, Fishbaugh and their friends, there is almost an unspoken bond that you can't get at a normal camp. Ryal James Weldon-Carroll is about to be an 8th grader and said this type of camp is exactly what he needs.
"I came here and everyone is going through the same thing, and it felt like I could just talk about how I actually felt," Weldon-Carroll said. "I feel like I'm on an island, and I'm all alone. When I come here, it's like I'm finally getting to civilization."
While this camp sees many come to the camp for years, Camp Grey Dove also has a CIT program -- Counselors In Training -- for the kids who want to return once they get older.
To learn more about Any Baby Can, you can click here.
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