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Camp H-Town gives cancer patients, siblings camp experience

August 2, 2018

Children with cancer and their brothers and sisters got to explore Houston, build relationships and just be kids for a few days thanks to the city’s first urban oncology camp.

Four Seasons Hotel Houston and MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital teamed up to host Camp H-Town July 22-26. The campers took over a floor at the hotel and slept on bunk beds, just like they would do at a regular camp.

Around 30 Houston-area campers aged eight to 14 plus camp counselors and medical professionals toured Minute Maid Park and Downtown Aquarium, dressed up and danced at House of Blues, made art with local artist Angela Fabbri and enjoyed local eats from Ninfa’s on Navigation, Jackson Street BBQ and Smoosh, just to name a few of the camp’s activities.

Tom Segesta, Four Seasons Hotel Houston general manager, said he and his wife Robin began talking to MD Anderson a few years back about starting an urban oncology camp like the one they had begun at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, which at the time, was run by Four Seasons. He said he and Robin knew they wanted to start a camp in Texas because of the way the Chicago camp had made such a positive effect.

“My wife Robin and I did this in Chicago as a twist of something for cancer, and it made such an impact on both of us that when we moved to Houston, we wanted to do the same thing — to see the smiles on the children’s faces and just how they interact with each other, the relationships that they built and the fun that they have,” Segesta said.

Robin said it took a while for MD Anderson to come around on the idea of an urban oncology camp because the hospital already had camps outside of the city in more rural areas. But Robin said some cancer patients are really too sick to go far away from the medical facilities big cities like Houston and Chicago provide.

“This is different. We’re in a city, and it allows that child that’s really sick to experience camp in a really controlled environment,” Robin said. “I really think they’ve seen it this week — they’ve experienced it.”

Four Seasons hosted a fundraising event in May that raised nearly $30,000, and a grant was received from Children’s Oncology Camping Association, International. Segesta said Houston community members and business partners stepped up to help as well.

Camp Director Rich Brundige worked at his first oncology camp in 1997 and has been doing it ever since. He said serving the patients and their siblings changes and inspires him and that every camp causes him to think about ways to improve in the future.

According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, only 4 percent of funding from the federal government goes toward studying pediatric cancer, so part of Camp H-Town was about raising awareness. Brundige said when people out in the community saw how happy the Camp H-Town group was, they inherently wanted to know what was going on and then how they could help.

“We’re walking around singing. It’s like a big old happy family. So people want to know, ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What are you doing?’ You tell them, and they want to know more and how to get involved. And that’s the impact,” Brundige said.

MD Anderson Program Manager Tomika Gamble said Camp H-Town allows the children to not only have fun but to bond with peers who know what it is like to face cancer. She said many children with cancer get pulled out of school and miss those relationships they had, so the camp helps them to cope as they make new friends.

“But suddenly if you put me in an environment where there are all these other patients or individuals who have dealt with something similar to you, the relationships that they build are amazing,” Gamble said.

Gamble said siblings are included in MD Anderson’s camps because after the cancer diagnosis, the family’s attention shifts to the sick child, and sometimes the siblings can get left out.

“We try to give opportunities to that entire population so that we can ensure that all of them are being fed appropriately to assist with the healing of the patient,” she said.

Gamble said the hospital’s camps are funded through the generous donations of people in Houston and from across the nation. To learn more about donating, visit www.mdanderson.org, click on the donate link and specify that you want the money to go to pediatrics support programs. Or you can email Gamble directly at tgamble@mdanderson.org.

Robin said when the adults involved work to make sure the campers have a great week, they learn that they receive much more in return and are changed for the better by the experience.

“You realize, gosh, maybe it’s not just about the campers, that you give them something different in their lives. All the people that are involved in this are impacted, and we walk away different every year,” Robin said. “We all walk away softer, more open, realizing that really our charge in life is to give back, to look for ways [to help].”

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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