Friday, February 3, 2012


Kathryn “Panda” Bradley passed away yesterday just three days shy of her 21st birthday. Her cancer journey started in 1999. She did not “lose the fight”, or “lose the struggle” with cancer. Rather, she won the battle of living life to the fullest. She had the secret of life down at the beginning. Cancer slowed her but never overshadowed her incredible ability to shine on, celebrate and enjoy life, and just attract friends, love and affection like a giant magnet. She created joy, happiness and laughter everywhere she went. And I’m not just saying that. I have photographic evidence. I did manage to get her to pose for a picture every now and again but usually she just exploded into laughter or silliness, and how wonderful that was to witness.

She was one of the most petite people that I have ever known and when she told me how much she loved my “short jokes” the game was on. “Oh, hey we can’t start yet because Panda’s not here.” “Anyone seen Panda?” “PANDA, hurry up and get over here!” The entire time of course Panda would be standing two inches away from me and she would instantly erupt into laughter. Or… “Hey kids you can’t go to dinner yet, your counselor’s not here…oops, didn’t see you there Panda!”

 Every smile or hug from her was a gift of the most genuine kind. The smile was from ear to ear, punctuated with a laugh that was all her own. When I hugged her she fit just perfectly under my arm. She was much shorter than my 11 year old daughter but was one of the biggest people that I will ever know. Losing her is such a profound loss for her Camp Goodtimes family because she was such an enormous part of the fabric of what makes camp so special. She just sparkled and possessed a distinctive flair that was completely wrapped around and inextractible from her deep understanding  for what Camp Goodtimes was. Nervous about going to camp when she was "little"? Not Kathryn. I remember one year when she was absolutely the last kid to arrive at camp. I think it was actually a day late. She said she didn't care at all what cabin she was in, she was just thrilled to be there.

Bumper and a little Panda in 2003
Panda was truly beautiful and as well as beautifully true. She was beautiful in the purest sense because just looking at her made you happy. She was also true, genuine and real without a shed of pretense. How could you be pretentious while dancing around in a blue dinosaur costume? That’s just impossible.

Panda’s family stood by her side from the very beginning. They showered her with love and surrounded her with hope and possibility. Panda’s brother Richard, or as his camp friends know him, Loop, wins as I told his mother yesterday “Brother of the Year” award in my book. He dropped absolutely everything in his life over these last months and never left Kathryn’s side. Recently he would sit at her bedside and read Harry Potter out loud, for hours on end. The love that these siblings had for each other was so obvious. Seeing them interact at camp was wonderful to behold and offered a small glimpse into their special and unique relationship.

Camp Goodtimes was Panda’s home away from home and the kids and staff were her extended family. Camp gave Panda the vehicle to express herself as only she could and to be universally loved. Camp does that.

My dear friend Karen Gerstenberger describes this special aspect of Camp Goodtimes beautifully and with deep personal understanding. Karen’s daughter Katie attended camp in the summer of 2007 and passed away just a few months later. The following is an excerpt from her message of sympathy to Panda’s camp family yesterday;

“The impact of Camp Goodtimes goes beyond what I understood when our children attended in the summer of 2007. It is much more than a week of fun and craziness which helps children who have cancer (and their siblings) realize what cancer cannot take from goes far beyond that. Camp creates an extended family of people who really and truly care about each camper and staff member, forever. Not just for fun, but in sickness and in health, in remission and in relapse, until death and afterward. I know this, because I have felt this love and caring directed toward our family when Katie died, and I have seen it come alongside other children and their families when they are dying. It's not just about the Goodtimes - though there are plenty of those. It's about caring for people who touch your life briefly, yet touch your heart for all time.”

Panda did just that. She touched hearts wherever she went and at camp the effect was exponential. To know her was a gift. When she was little she was actually given the Hawaiian name “Kahiwalani”, meaning “Gift from Heaven”, proof that good things come in small packages.

I wrote to Panda’s mother Carol yesterday and struggled to find the right words to express my gratitude for the pleasure of knowing her children, and finally arrived at these;
 “Thank you Carol for your three beautiful gifts to this world, Kathryn, Richard, and your recipe for life, ‘Love, Laugh & Live’. Of course dear Panda would want us to turn life up as loud as we can get it. I know for an absolute fact that her Camp Goodtimes family will. Panda is alive and well in the hearts of all of those lucky enough to stumble into her path in life and who are so much the better for it. The amount of love, laughter and living that Panda created and experienced in life is astounding. It's as if she was on a mission to live a 100 years in only 21. She clearly exceeded her goal. Kathryn will be missed dearly, remembered forever, and always will be celebrated with a smile.”

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