Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Conversation with Karen Gerstenberger

I've been meaning to share this video for a long time. I made this so that the staff at Camp Goodtimes could have the opportunity to listen to a parent's perspective on sending their kids to camp. I have shared the video with our camp staff that last couple of summers and people have been very moved by Karen's sincerity and honesty. It was very emotional for her to open up like this and I so appreciate her willingness to share her story. It's about 20 minutes long so grab a cup of coffee and maybe a Kleenex or two and I think you will enjoy this.

We will continue to celebrate her daughter Katie's life every summer at camp.


Katie, June 2007

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An amazing person

I've been really bad about posting on my blog as of late but life does indeed get very busy at times. However, lately in my random waking moments when I'm not consumed with the day to day I keep coming back to thoughts of my dear friend Puck from Camp Goodtimes (her real name is Cory, but I've known her for years and have never actually called her by her real name). Puck is one of the Camp Goodtimes docs who every year during her vacation time elects to volunteer at camp, hanging out with many of the same kids that she takes care of at Children's Hospital 40 hours a week at her regular job. That bears repeating...during her down time she goes to camp to take care of and play with many of the same kids that she treats at Children's Hospital.

There should be awards for people whose hearts are as big as a horse, for people who are just so filled up with awesomeness that it spills over to positively effect the lives of so many people.

I most recently saw Puck at the memorial service a few weeks ago for one of our campers, 12 year old Brandon, who had bravely fought brain tumors for almost 8 years. Puck was one of his docs and was very close to him. I picked out Puck from the overflow crowd at the church and I went to sit down next to her. I told her that I saw photos of her with Brandon that were lovingly placed near the guest book. We started talking and the topic came around to our volunteer work. She said that a number of people ask how we can do what we do when inevitably from time to time there is this tragic result of pediatric cancer. I responded that I felt that the human heart has an incredible capacity to love and that I just couldn't imagine NOT getting to know some of these wonderful children whose lives were cut short by cancer. I've learned so much from them and have enjoyed their company so much. I've felt privileged to be welcomed in to their families and have so enjoyed sharing their story in words and pictures with the world.

Puck and I kept talking along these lines for a while and then she really summed things up so beautifully when she said, "We're not doing these children any favors by not falling in love with them." And this comes from a woman who has spends all of her working life taking care of children battling cancer. She is so right. What bad could happen from opening your heart up for someone going through something terrible? Nothing that comes remotely close to what the person's family is going through or the patient is going through. But if you can add some joy and hope to someone's life?...then jump in, go for it, and soon you will realize that there's no other road that you would've wanted to take.

In 2007, one of our Camp Goodtimes staff members, Tara Clarke, known affectionately to hundreds of people as Twiga (Swahili for giraffe-Tara grew up in Africa), was very sick but none the less came to camp every day. On cruise day I made her sit down next to me as the boat approached pier 56. I said to her, "Can you fly?" She looked at me completely stunned...I continued, "How would you like it if in about 20 minutes from now you were flying over the boat in a parasail?" Her mouth fell open. She replied, "Uh, I don't know, but I'd like to try it!" Puck was sitting next to her. I directed a question at her, "Puck, will she physically be OK to go up?" She said, half flabbergasted, "I don't see why not." I said, "Good...because you're going up with her!" Puck immediately said, "NO WAY!" But Twiga countered with, "If I'm going, you're going!" How could Puck argue with that? Twiga knew that her cancer was incurable but she knew that every day was a new day, and it ain't over till its over.

Just 20 minutes later, on a beautiful summer day, with signal flags blowing in the breeze on the top of the Spirit of Seattle, a parachute appeared in the distance. As it got closer and closer, suddenly all 200 people on the boat realized that it was Puck and Twiga flying over Elliot Bay. With music blaring, people cheering, and our parasailors grinning from ear to ear and waving enthusiastically from the sky, a parachute flew right over the back of the boat. As it disappeared in the distance, I stood there in the wheelhouse, transfixed by one of the most beautiful moments that I had ever seen.

Less than 3 months later, Twiga passed away. But on that summer day, at that moment, on a tandem parasail and holding the hand of her doctor the entire time, Tara learned to fly.

Without the love and support of my dear friend Puck, that magic moment would never have happened. At Children's Hospital, minus the parachute, she is there for her patients every single day. She is a blessing to anyone and everyone that is lucky enough to know her. She has dedicated her life to children facing the toughest times imaginable. I am in awe of her.

Thanks Puck, and I'll look forward to seeing you at camp again this summer!