Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Cancer Takes Another Before Their Time

Cancer, as we have said many times, affects everyone; either directly or indirectly, and Camp Good Days is no exception.  Once again, on Martin Luther King Day, I had to hear some very sad news.  I received a call early in the morning telling me that our long-time volunteer, Matt O’Brien had passed away and had lost his battle with cancer.  Matt exemplified what it meant to be a Camp Good Days volunteer.

I first met Matt when he volunteered to be a camp counselor at our summer camp back in 1992.  He has been volunteering at camp in the summer pretty much every year except for last year.  He always volunteered at more than one program, which I am sure took up much of his vacation time.  He would volunteer at our women’s oncology weekends, our Teddi’s Team program for 8-12 year olds with cancer, and our Doing a World of Good International program.  He loved the campers, and you never questioned why he was there; he gave all that he had to the campers he worked with.  He was always willing to do anything for anyone and he never complained.  When I would go to thank him, he would always say, “I should be the one thanking you for this experience.”  He helped with our special events like our Annual Joe Benet Memorial Kazoo Fest, the Explorer Post, and the air show. 
Matt at Camp
I, along with countless others here at Camp Good Days will miss him.  I not only consider him to be a great volunteer, but also a great friend.  I know that he will be reunited with all of his Camp Good Days friends in Heaven, and I feel that Sonia is greeting him at the door.  

Each year, Camp Good Days has A Night of Gratitude, where we recognize volunteers and supporters of Camp Good Days who have gone above and beyond what we as an organization can expect, and I am very pleased to say that at this year’s Night of Gratitude, on April 7th, we will be inducting Matt into the Ring of Honor.  In this way, he will be a part of Camp Good Days for all staff, volunteers, and campers to see in the future.  He was a good man, and he will be greatly missed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A New Year Brings Promise

Welcome to 2017, with all of the promise that a new year has to offer.   All of us from Camp Good Days and Special Times are excited to see what this year will bring.  Hopefully, we have laid the groundwork, and there will be some movement with Cancer Mission 2020 this year.  I hope that we will take a big step towards reaching the goal of making cancer the type of disease that when someone is diagnosed, they can continue to live a good quality of life and hopefully die from something other than their cancer.  There is a lot of good work being done to help achieve that, but I am hoping that with the election of the new president, and with one party having the majority of the two houses, that maybe some of the bickering that has plagued our government over these past many years will end, and we can move forward towards getting something accomplished. 
To me, and I think to many of you, what could be more important than finding some of the answers to this disease that takes so many of our loved ones?  As we have said many times, cancer is not a Republican, Democrat, Conservative, or Liberal disease, it is an equal opportunity illness that unfortunately takes 11,000 of our fellow Americans every single week. When your chances of being diagnosed with cancer in your lifetime are greater than that of tripping while using your Smartphone, I think it is time that something concrete gets done.  Your chances of tripping while texting are 1-in-10, but in the United States today, your chances of being diagnosed with cancer in your lifetime as a woman is 1-in-3 and as a man it is 1-in-2. Those are certainly not odds that we should continue to live with. 
With your help, and with the help of the many 1,000s of people that have signed our Cancer Mission 2020 petitions, something can be done.  We need people who are not afraid to stand up and be counted. Urge your family, your friends, and your co-workers, to get involved and help us say that we want action.  I am pretty confident that we will begin to see some.  If you haven’t signed the Cancer Mission 2020 petition, please do so today, and I hope that you will join with us.  As we have said, Cancer Mission 2020 is like a tripod; the first leg of the tripod is education and sharing with people where we are with our efforts to cure cancer.  The second is a call to action, which we started with the call to increase the number of clinical trials and trying to secure additional funding for these trials, as those are where some of the answers to cancer are going to come from.  The last leg is accountability, which so often is sorely missing when it comes to cancer and cancer research. 
I am pleased that Vice President Biden has said in some of his final interviews as Vice President that he is going to commit his time and efforts to help lead the way to finding the answers to cancer.  And I know that Louise Slaughter and Tom Reed who have been very, very supportive will do what they can do to help as well.  I am also excited to hear about the work that Eric Trump, our President Elect’s son, has done.  He has been out there working to help secure funds for cancer.  I think that this is the time to come together, and maybe we can convince President Elect Trump to make one more cabinet level position; meaning for the lack of a better expression, a cancer tsar, someone whose sole job is to bring all of the efforts to finding the answers to cure cancer together, so that we can have a coordinated effort rather than the fragmented effort that we have today. 
I needed no greater reminder of the devastation of cancer than these past couple of weeks, when I learned that someone who was a very large part of Camp Good Days in its formative years, Sonia Basko had died. I first met Sonia when she was just becoming a teenager following her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Disease.  Sonia was a regular at Camp Good Days with our summer camping programs, our Kris Connection, and our annual Florida trip.  While I haven’t really seen Sonia in a while, it was nice reading the notes about her and to hear some of her friends and co-workers speak at her funeral about what she has gone on to accomplish with her life’s work of education and support of social justice causes for teachers.  I am confident that when she gets to heaven, she will reunite with some of her friends from the early days at Camp Good Days, but I am nervous that she might start to unionize them.  I was happy to have the opportunity to talk to Sonia’s sister and mother at the funeral and was honored to listen to them express how much Camp Good Days meant to Sonia and her sister in different ways.  Her sister came to our sibling camping program and Sonia came to our programs for children with cancer.  Like many of our long term survivors, it wasn’t the cancer that directly took Sonia’s life; she contracted pneumonia as she began to treat her reoccurrence.  Sonia, like many of our former campers, had a weakened immune system.  Diseases that a healthy person’s body would be able to reject and fight vigorously are hard to fight for someone who had cancer and therefore a very weak immune system. One of the first things I did when I learned of Sonia’s passing was to look through my office to find a couple of pictures of Sonia, and what I found were pictures that were taken when we took the kids from our Kris Connection to meet President and Nancy Reagan in the Diplomatic Greeting Room in the White House.  I can’t help but wonder if that was the start of Sonia’s lobbying efforts.  I also found her questionnaire that she filled out when she signed up for Kris Connection when she was thirteen.  Sonia’s presence will be greatly missed here at Camp Good Days.

Participants of Kris Connection at the White House in the Diplomatic Greeting Room circa 1987
President and Nancy Reagan meeting the participants of Kris Connection circa 1987
To stay in touch with Camp Good Days, visit our website,  Also, visit our Cancer Mission 2020 website to stay up-to-date, and to sign our petition if you haven’t already done so,  You can also listen to our radio show, Good Days and Special Times, the first Thursday of every month at 6:30 PM with WYSL on 1040 AM or 92.1 FM.  If you cannot tune in when the show is airing, you can listen to the show as a podcast on the WYSL website,   
I will try to do a better job of keeping these posts a little more up-to-date, and I ask you to bear with me.  I wish all of you a New Year that will be filled with good health, happiness, peace, and the most important ingredient, love.