I always wonder where the ideas, energy, and the sense of the immense importance comes from when people who are faced with adversity come up with programs and plans that offer support, encouragement, and fun to others in similar situations.  The Bravehearts, an oncology camp for women, is a perfect example of the mystery and strength of the human spirit.

Way back in 2001, a group of adventurous and enterprising women decided that facing a diagnosis of cancer is not something people should have to do alone or without having fun and enjoying life.   They knew all too well that shifting the focus from the dreadful characteristics of having a cancer diagnosis can be life changing and sustaining.  Camp Bravehearts was launched with these ideas, giving women a place to go to find support, learn a new skill, encourage others, and to practice and master the art of being brave.

I found my way to one of the camp gatherings last month at Double H Hole in the Woods in Luzerne, NY.  Double H, founded by Paul Newman and Charles Wood, is a camp for Children facing life threatening illnesses.  The camp has allowed the Bravehearts to use their comfortable and magical wooded and lake setting to create camp memories that last forever.

The waterfront at Double H Hole in the Woods.

My roommate Beth, whom I had never met before, is now considered a dear friend.  We found that we have so much in common ranging from the kind of foods we eat to our desire to play an instrument.  We also both love to golf and dabble in art.  It turned out to be a perfect match.

Beth and I both signed up for music classes.  Our music teacher, Alan, as it turns out, has the patience of a saint as he guided us through learning a few chords on the Ukulele and some Taiko drumming patterns.  Somehow, very magically, he had us all playing like a band of rock stars.  It was so much fun!  Alan volunteers his time and gifts as a musician and instructor to the Bravehearts several times each year.  He packs his car with a bunch of ukuleles and drums, drives several hours, and creates a fun and supportive classroom environment for learning music.  To support his love of music and teaching, he has been found at public work sites asking for scraps of sewer pipes to turn into drums.  He makes the drums and the drum sticks, and believes anyone can play music.  He proved that at this camp.

Taiko Drumming on a “custom-made-by-Alan” drum.
My roommate Beth, AKA Queen B, and Alan, our music teacher.

The Braveheart committee arranged to have live music on both Friday and Saturday nights.  Dr. Pezz and the Barkeaters played on Friday evening.  Pezz is an employee of Double H and an accomplished musician.  He and his band entertained us, and we were so thankful for their music.

Dr. Pezz and the Barkeaters. I was lucky enough to see them for the 1st time at Camp Chingachgook in September at Women’s Weekend. I sketched them there, and then heard that they were going to play at Camp Bravehearts. So I brought the sketch and painted it there. I handed it over to Pezz.

On Saturday, an enormous black bus pulled in carrying Flame, a gifted and unbelievably talented group of people with disabilities, who live a few towns away.  Flame have been together as a group since 2003 and have performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, appeared on Good Morning America, and have been featured in People magazine.  The story of their existence is so amazing, and can be read about on the above link.  They closed the curtains after playing many songs that night, only to open back up with all the band members wearing Braveheart shirts.  The love and support they showed the Bravehearts was so special.

The amazing group, Flame!

The weekend was full of meaningful activities ranging from art sessions, wellness and support groups, sidewalk chalk competitions, and high ropes activities.  Our entire group drove to Lake George on Sunday morning and spent several hours on a brunch cruise on the Lac Du Saint Sacrement dancing the day away while sharing the “Ship” with newlyweds and their wedding party.

At camp, I met an old friend and co-worker, Dave, who I hadn’t seen in at least 25 years.  He is one of the many volunteers who spend the weekend with the Bravehearts creating opportunities for joy and support.  Dave and I spent some time on Saturday afternoon sitting at a picnic table reminiscing about the old days.

My old friend, Dave and I at our Halloween party Saturday night.

The weekend ended with a closing ceremony that enveloped the essence of the entire weekend.   Pezz read the poem “Love Letter to the world”, and Karen, one of the founding members emphasized that we are stronger together, and will hold each other up forever.

To quote a sweet friend of mine who is dealing with cancer and all of the physical and emotional issues that come with it –  “Who knew that having cancer could be so much fun!”

I will look forward to gathering with my Braveheart Sisters again in the coming year.