HAMPDEN, Maine — Carl Hanson’s physical healing had begun well over a year before he first arrived at Camp Rainbow 10 years ago, but his mental healing from surgery for pancreatic cancer was just about to begin.
“I was diagnosed in 2001, but I didn’t go until 2002. I was too sick to go that first summer,” said Hanson, now a 19-year-old college student finishing up his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.
“I didn’t really think there was anything that needed healing with me. I was pretty sure I was going to be OK,” he added. “But it really is a place of healing. I think that’s what the camp is for, to start the mental healing process.
“It’s something you have to experience.”
After attending the annual nonprofit camp, which is provided free of charge for children with cancer, for eight of the previous nine summers, Hanson attended last year as a volunteer and intends to return this summer to take part in the camp’s 25th year as a full-fledged counselor.
“I keep going back because I don’t know what I’d do with that week in June otherwise,” Hanson joked. “It’s different as a counselor. I feel like I can come into it with a sense of compassion and empathy rather than just sympathy because I know what these kids are going through mentally.”
Hanson remembers well his experience in 2001, when he was initially diagnosed with a cancer rare for an 8-year-old child. That spring, he had surgery to remove half his gallbladder, part of his small intestine, and half of his pancreas.
“It’s scary. You don’t know why it’s happening to you,” Hanson said. “It makes you grow up fast, so I feel like I can help them get back to their regular child status, where they should be.”
This year’s annual weeklong camp, which takes place the week before the Bangor Y’s Camp Jordan opens at the 200-acre location on Branch Lake in Ellsworth at the same location, will be held June 24-30. Campers, who can be accompanied by family members, can participate in swimming, kayaking, volleyball, arts and crafts, singing and many other activities. A doctor from Eastern Maine Medical Center’s oncology unit is also there 24-7.
“I’d never really been to any kind of camp before other than a Camp Jordan Y day camp with the YMCA, but simply put, I fell in love with it,” he said.
Hanson said Camp Rainbow felt like home.
“Early on, I was a little bit shy because I didn’t know anyone there, but the atmosphere drew me right in,” Hanson said. “Having my family there made the whole atmosphere very comfortable, and all the kids I met there just embraced me and made me feel very welcome. I opened up after that. It definitely put me at ease.”
Other than getting appendicitis a few months after his 2001 surgery and a bout of pancreatitis in 2006 that kept him from attending Camp Rainbow, Hanson has been complication- and cancer-free.
“I came home from the hospital nine days after my cancer surgery with a bottle of Tylenol,” said Hanson. “I didn’t have to have chemo or radiation or anything.”
Hanson singled out EMMC’s pediatric oncology unit and Dr. Judy McGann for helping him and inspiring his current career path.
“I’m studying biology with a pre-med track,” he said. “I feel indebted to the people who helped me and got me to where I am. I’d like to do for other kids what my doctors did for me.”
Camp Rainbow is supported by the American Cancer Society and The Ronald McDonald House. To learn more, volunteer, or contribute financially, call 800-227-2345, or visit www.cancer.org online.