By Gerald Payfer
About 25 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. To an 8-year-old child, it initially meant little more than feeling very ill.
However, the look from my parents told volumes. None of us knew we were about to embark on a roller coaster ride journey that has no certain end.
From the very onset of treatment, I was swept away in a blur of white rooms, beeping machines, IV tubes, and countless tests. I spent the first few months in various stages of illness constantly surrounded by adults in surgical masks and sterilization suits.
To this day, I can still smell the medical cleaning supplies. The medicines administered caused my hair to fall out. And the steroids caused my face to swell up. It was as if a stranger stared back at me from the mirror every morning.
During this time, I never heard everything is going to be fine. “You have the best team doing everything possible,” they told me. Outside the hospital, I faced harsh reality as people poured on the pity or simply ignored me.
Being shunned by parents and other children for something I had zero control of and did not understand was worst of all. At some point during treatments enough was enough and I gave up!
This is where camps and programs like The Hole in the Wall Gang and the Hospital Outreach Program (HOP) come in. Camp is a place free of judgment and pity — where children get to play and sing; and experience life like a healthy child. We fished from canoes on a lake. We ate in large groups with other children facing the same challenges. There were no doctors or white walls. All you could hear was laughter.
For children too ill to go to camp, HOP brings camp into hospital rooms. They get to experience the joy of being treated as a child, not an illness. This can turn the tide of the battle and mend a broken spirit. It’s a reminder that there is more outside the four walls of a hospital room. And the best part is these programs are offered to families at no cost.
There are many of us who, once a year, gather together on an exciting journey cycling across Connecticut to raise awareness and support for this program. AngelRide started out in 2004 to help one child but has since grown to help tens of thousands.
We need your support to help us reach our ambitious $700,000 fund-raising goal for 2016.
I am hoping you can find it in your hearts to help support this important cause. Consider sponsoring one of the hundreds of AngelRiders with your financial donation. Proceeds from AngelRide support the HOP program.
Take it from me, the kids could sure use your help.