Joy and comfort at Camp Goodtimes

A cancer experience can set families on a course that can bring difficult challenges, changes to their social networks and a new outlook for their future.  But at Camp Goodtimes, kids affected by cancer can still have fun and thrive with other children who understand what they’re going through. It’s a reminder that childhood doesn’t have to stop because of cancer.  

This year, more people like Inara and her family can find the support they need while creating new, happy memories. 

Sudden symptoms and shocking news

Elu and Inara, smiling and laughing in a nature park.
Elu (left) and Inara (right)

During the winter of 2016, Jennifer and the rest of her family got sick. She quickly assumed it was just a winter bug and it would go away easily but her daughter Inara didn’t seem to get better. That’s when she noticed tiny red spots speckling Inara’s body. She brought Inara to their family doctor thinking it might be a rash and they were recommended to go straight to the emergency room. They learned the spots were actually petechiae and Inara was soon diagnosed with leukemia.

Leukemia is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children in Canada. But no family can ever be emotionally prepared for this news. Jennifer wasn’t any different. “I was shocked,” she recalls. “When you’re a mom with little kids, rushing around to play groups and library story time, the furthest thing from your mind is that a tiny rash could be cancer.”

So began their two-and-a-half-year cancer journey of treatments and operations. But more unexpected news was still to come.

Making new friends and finding a community

Inara, sitting in her father’s lap with other families at Camp Goodtimes.
Inara and her father at Camp Goodtimes

When Inara’s cancer treatments began, she caught an infection and needed to have an additional surgery. This left her with a wound that required extra dressing that made her immune system more vulnerable. As a result of these unexpected hardships, the Hatfield family had to stop many of the activities that they used to do before Inara’s diagnosis. The experience was isolating at times since it was harder to see friends and go to public spaces.

We had great support at the beginning, but as time went on and we couldn’t go out, we lost touch with many people.

However, the Hatfield family began feeling hopeful again when one of Inara’s nurses introduced them to another child that was going through the same chemotherapy cycles as Inara. They were only two rooms apart and the families supported each other for the next 3 years.

Jennifer learned about Camp Goodtimes – a medically supervised summer camp funded by the Canadian Cancer Society – from the family they got to know at the hospital. That summer, both families were able to attend the camp together.

Finding moments of joy and laughter during uncertain times

The Hatfield family smiling and laughing on a dock at Camp Goodtimes.
The Hatfield family

Jennifer says that attending the camp sounded nerve-wracking at first, as Inara was still in active treatment. But seeing other families who had finished their treatments and trying activities such as rock climbing, archery and kayaking was very comforting.

“The best thing about Camp Goodtimes was seeing our kids having so much fun,” Jennifer says. “Watching them laughing was a welcome reprieve from the intensity and uncertainty of cancer treatment.”

 They were also able to meet more families who understood their struggles and found a supportive community.

Without camp, we wouldn’t have met other parents that understood our journey. It’s made a huge difference to be a part of a community of families, both for us as parents and for our girls.

Inara recently celebrated 5 years of being cancer-free. During Inara’s cancer experience, Jennifer met other families who’ve lost children to cancer. She hopes that research will continue to advance treatment protocols for children with leukemia and that donors know how much hope, joy and new memories they can bring to other families by supporting Camp Goodtimes.