Monday, May 10, 2010

Exchange Student and Summer Camp

Our French exchange student is now back in France. You have probably heard how the Icelandic volcano disrupted flights – what you may not know is that it prevented our students from going back home to France when they were supposed to go. They were very happy (and so were we) for the delay! Zoe became more like a member of our family, rather than a guest. The news media even got involved: Zoe, another student and their chaperones were interviewed on local TV about their experiences here, and their difficulty in getting a flight home. Five days after they were supposed to leave, they were back in the south of France, and all is well.

Having an exchange student was a wonderful experience for us, and I am thankful that we had her to stay. One important thing that happened was that I moved through the grief that arose from having a 15-year old girl in the house, and was simply able to enjoy Zoe’s company. I took her to get a pedicure, and shopping for clothes; we went grocery shopping, and she selected the food for her last dinner at our house (she chose filet mignon).

There is only one Katie, and no one will ever take her place, or fill the hole she left in my life. But I felt as if she was blessing this exchange with Zoe, and I’m thankful for it.

As we are nearing the end of the school year, thoughts of summer camp arise – and volunteering at the American Cancer Society’s Camp Goodtimes West is on my mind. Our children attended this camp after Katie recovered from her surgery, before she relapsed. It was six days of fun and frolicking, with cancer firmly in the BACKGROUND. Every child at camp was a patient, a former patient in remission, or the sibling of a patient; I highly recommend the experience for anyone you know who might fall into one of these categories. Camp provides a week of openness and freedom from hovering parents, and yet it’s safe, with nurses and an oncologist right on site. Carnival, swimming, bicycles, a cruise, sing-alongs, campfires, skits, dancing, laughter, friendship and memories are all part of the program, and cancer (and the medical equipment that goes with it) does not stop any of the fun. Katie did not want to go to camp, but after she got there, she loved it so much that she asked us to scatter her ashes at camp. I will be helping on the cruise this summer, as I did last summer.

Here is a video of an interview of David and me, made in 2007, by our dear friend and photographer, Paul Dudley. Paul is the reason that we know about Camp Goodtimes, since he’s been volunteering for them for 20+ years. I couldn’t have done the interview with anyone else. Paul KNOWS us, knew Katie, knows Camp Goodtimes, and knows kids with cancer. He gets it.

If you know a bereaved child, there is another camp that could be a blessing: Camp Erin. Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen, started The Moyer Foundation 10 years ago to help children in distress. They founded Camp Erin in memory of their young friend Erin, who had cancer. I spoke at a fundraiser for the foundation last week, and had the privilege of meeting Erin’s parents. Camp Erin has 36 camps in 23 states, and one in Canada. If you would like to learn more about Camp Goodtimes or Camp Erin, just click on the links.

There are many summer camps designed especially for kids with special needs. If you are looking for one, I hope you will consult your doctor or local children’s hospital for suggestions.


Karen Gerstenberger is the mother of David and Katie, and the president of Katie’s Comforters Guild at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Her blog is The guild’s blog is


  1. All of these camps are just wonderful resources for families.
    I am always amazed at seeing bereaved parents who can pull themselves up and make something happen for children/families in need.
    Just wonderful!
    I am sure Zoe will have wonderful memories to last a lifetime of her visit with your family!