Every birthday is important to children, especially if they have a life-threatening illness. At Camp Arroyo in Livermore, they get to celebrate with their families and new friends. The Taylor Family Foundation provides "Jack's Camp" for free, for children diagnosed with brain tumors.
One camper, asked who in his family had brain cancer said, "It was my sister and we tried different things for it. It just shrunk and then it grew and shrunk and grew," one boy told ABC7 News.
"It was my brother," one girl said. "Now he has a little bit of a problem with hearing and his brain doesn't work as well, but we're happy he survived."
"The first time I think I came to camp, I met somebody that had the same brain tumor as me. And my brain tumor is pretty rare. So, that was really cool," another young woman said.
The retreats offered by the Taylor Family Foundation provide such a crucial level of support for the families who are stressed out by their child's illness. "We first came to camp right before Ashley's second surgery and we didn't really know anybody who was going through what we were going through," recalled Ashley Avery's father Bryan.
Camp Director Mike Kornbluth runs the support group for the adults where they talk about the child's illness having a ripple effect on the whole family. "It's the sibling maybe being left with family members while parents are spending time at the hospital. It's the financial stress because parents want to be with their child and not be able to be at their jobs, and they lose their jobs because of it," he said.
Jack's Camp is deeply personal. Melissa Phillip's son Riktor wasn't even three when he was diagnosed with multiple brain tumors. Plus, she had a new baby. Melissa is Cheryl Jennings' niece. "I feel like it's healing when you get to tell your story to somebody who really understands, who doesn't just want the short one-minute version where it has a happy ending. They want to know the details," Melissa said.
Mitch Turner's son Aiden, was diagnosed when he was 4-years-old. His baby brother celebrated his first birthday while Aiden was recovering from brain surgery. "It was really difficult for me, the first camp, listening to all the stories and I think, 'I can't do this anymore. I can't come back.' But just seeing how much fun and the joy that Aiden has when he comes here and the friends that he has, I can't deny him that," Mitch said. Mitch and Cheryl Jennings work together at ABC7 News.
The Taylor Family Foundation was created by Barry and Elaine Taylor. She is related to Jack, of Jack's Camp. Jack was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 24 and sadly, he did not survive. But he won't be forgotten, thanks to the camp that's named after him. "I always say there, for the love of Jack, these families are together and have the support they never had," Eliane told ABC7 News. And, the children who survive their tumors honor Jack's memory every time they come and enjoy camp.
"I think it's really great to have your family right here and it's just great to get away from your house and your TV," Riktor said.
"This place is a wonderful place for everyone with brain tumors and families just to come here and play and have fun," camper Tony Cattolica said.