Wednesday, Jul 27, 2016
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Cancer crushes cultural divide; YMCA Storer campers scamper into summer fun

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Niv Koren, center, of Israel climbs fearlessly on high ropes at the 2007 World Oncology Camp at YMCA Storer Camps in Napoleon, Mich. After all, Niv and 47 other children have stared down far worse: cancer.

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NAPOLEON, Mich. - Cheers erupted from the dock as Toledoan Josh Taylor's jump onto a giant floating cushion sent 12-year-old Molly Swan somersaulting into Stony Lake from her perch on its end.

Fellow campers from Belarus, Spain, and other countries may not have understood the Irish girl's first words after her soon-to-be legendary "blobbing" experience - "I thought I was going to land in the lifeboat!" - but her infectious grin told them what they needed to know.

Facial expressions and gestures are going a long way this week for campers from 14 countries in the water, on the horse trails, during soccer matches, at dances, and during other activities at YMCA Storer Camps near here.

"It's quite fun," Molly said, even before the 220-pound YMCA volunteer's leap sent her 89-pound body flying.

"You get to learn different languages and that," she added. "You get to hear different languages in the background."

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Sharon Taaffe, 15, of Kalamazoo, one of five Americans at the camp, paints in a journal. She'll be 16 tomorrow, and has battled leukemia.

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Plus, all of the 48 children at World Oncology Camp have a common and powerful bond: cancer.

Sharon Taaffe of Kalamazoo, Mich., who turns 16 tomorrow and is among five American campers, said there is a special camaraderie at the camp.

She had leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant nearly six years ago.

"It's sort of amazing [to see] folks around the world are in the same boat you are," she said during an arts-and-crafts session earlier this week.

Molly, the accidental acrobat from Belfast, survived cancer in her kidney half her lifetime ago.

Niv Koren, a 13-year-old from Kfar Saba, Israel, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at 10 and spent two years under treatment.

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Molly Swan of Belfast expects to make a splash in Stony Lake as she soars through the air.

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Still, Niv's medical history didn't stop him from breezing through elements on Storer Camps' high-rope course.

"We have fun here, very fun, all of the time," he said. "We do fun, fun games."

Some campers are undergoing cancer treatments, so they avoid some of the more strenuous activities.

Golf carts are available to whisk campers around if needed, and at least three doctors and a dozen nurses are on the grounds at all times, said Dru Mitchell, the American Cancer Society Great Lakes Division Inc.'s volunteer camp coordinator.

Campers started arriving with 16 doctors, nurses, social workers, and other professionals from their countries on Friday, and they are enjoying Camp Storer while the adults are visiting area medical personnel and facilities during the day.

Tomorrow, the delegations will begin going to homes in the Toledo area and Michigan, where they will stay with those U.S. families until returning to their countries next week.

The experience gives children from other countries - including Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Egypt, Ghana, India, Jordan, Mexico, and South Korea - a free opportunity to see how Americans play and live, Ms. Mitchell said.

YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo donated lodging, food, and staff at the camp, while the American Cancer Society paid for flights and other expenses.

"It lets them see that American kids get cancer too," Ms. Mitchell said. "It's a worldwide disease. It isn't culture-driven."

And children who may not know others their age with cancer can freely share experiences with other campers, Ms. Mitchell added. "It's nice to be a regular kid," she said.

Held about every three years since 1993, World Oncology Camp is taking place this year in conjunction with Camp Catch-A-Rainbow.

That American Cancer Society Great Lakes Division program is for Michigan and Indiana children who are battling or survived cancer, and 93 campers are attending this year.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.

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