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Sibling camp gives families of cancer patients time to play

Fort Dodge children going to sibling camp; teen to be counselor

August 14, 2011
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer , Messenger News

Camp connections stay with youngsters for a long time, maybe forever.

For 19-year-old Kelli Schnurr, of Fort Dodge, those connections have been part of her life for 13 years already, and are likely to be part of it for years to come.

Schnurr left Saturday for Camp Heart Connection's sibling camp in Boone, where she will be a counselor for the first time. She's been counselor in training at the camp for two years.

"I've gone to camp my whole life," she said. "To oncology camp. This one is a sibling camp."

Sibling camp, operated by Children's Cancer Connection, runs today through Saturday, a week-long summer camp for the sisters and brothers of children who have had or still have cancer. Or those who have lost a brother or sister to cancer. Siblings of children with cancer have their own special needs.

While Schnurr is going to camp as a counselor, three Telfer children from Fort Dodge will be attending as campers.

Abby, 15; Noah, 12; and Nathan, 8, are going back to camp. Their sister, Olivia, who just turned 9, is in remission of a rare cancer diagnosed when she was 3 - rhabdomyosarcoma.

"I remember asking them what exactly that was," said the children's mother, Jodi Telfer. "She grew a tumor in the empty space behind her nose and eyes. It's a little more common to get in the bladder."

Mitch Telfer is the childrens' father.

For this week, whether as a camper or a counselor, the world is full of action, full of fun.

"It's like a break you get in the summer," Abby Telfer said. "You're around people who understand what you've gone through. You get to hang out with kids your age who understand."

Facebook keeps camp friends close throughout the year, she said.

"They totally took forward to going," Jodi Telfer said about her children. "It helped them understand they weren't the only ones who go through this. It's helped them understand. They were a lot smaller when this happened. Their lives got turned upside down. Even though it was hard at the time, it made them stronger, really."

Abby Telfer said the last night of camp, called wish night, is her favorite activity.

"Everyone in camp gather around the campfire," she said. "Anyone can stand up and air anything they need to."

Schnurr agrees that wish night is a powerful program.

"Everyone in camp goes out and sits by a huge fire," she said. "It's just awesome. We have sticks we throw in the fire. You write on them. Nobody reads them. It's just like your own personal thing. If you've lost a friend, you can write their name on it. It's just something for you."

A music education major at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Schnurr is on the program crew of counselors, she said. "But we get to hang out with the kids all the time."

In remission from ALL leukemia diagnosed when she was almost 4, Schnurr looks at sibling camp with the eyes of a former cancer patient.

"It's always awesome to get a different view on this," she said. "The sibling's point of view. You don't realize how it can affect them, too."

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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