Teen cancer survivor plans to help others in fight against disease

The Warren Sentinel

FRONT ROYAL — A Winchester teen who has successfully fought off leukemia is enjoying her last visit to Camp Fantasic as a camper.

"It's my final year, so I'm kind of sad about that," Abby Snider said.

Now 17 and cancer-free, she is aging out of the program established in 1983 for children ages 7-17 fighting cancer and held each year since at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center in Warren County.

However, she's not done with the camp.

"I'm going to take a year off and come back as a counselor," she said.

Nearly 100 campers from throughout Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia arrived in town Sunday a little later than expected because of bus problems. But that didnít dampen their enthusiasm once they arrived at the 4-H Center.

Emma Delaney of Winchester, who recently completed her treatment and also said she is cancer-free, is attending her first camp. She said she is not sure what to expect. Abby, a three-time camper, has taken Emma under her wing.

"It's her first year, so she doesn't know much about it, but I'm telling her stuff about it," Abby said.

In addition to her favorite activities, such as horseback riding, Abby will take a leader-in-training class that she hopes will prepare her for her future role as a camp counselor.

Organizers have established the Camp Fantastic Network as the theme for this year. Games, projects and activities will be patterned after popular television programs and networks.

On Sunday, campers played Family Channel games.

The Fear Factor Fair is set for Monday, according to the camp schedule. The Fantastic Olympics are set for Tuesday, followed by the Animal Planet farm day on Wednesday and CFNís Got Talent on Thursday.

The Thursday talent show falls on Visitorsí Night, when Special Love supporters will visit for a barbecue dinner as well as the entertainment.

An awards ceremony and after party is planned for Saturday, according to the schedule.

Various Rotary Clubs are providing dinners for the campers this week. The Olney, Md., club provided Sundayís dinner. The Front Royal, Winchester and Culpeper clubs also will provide dinners.

"We have a lot of Rotary here; a different civic group every night," said Dave Smith, CEO of Special Love Inc., the Winchester-based nonprofit organization that sponsors the event.

The mission of the camp is to help young cancer patients realize they are not alone or different because of their illness, a Special Love news release states. The camps make them feel special and connected to other kids with cancer.

"I tell first-time participants that camp is the closest thing they'll find to Heaven on earth," said Smith, who also serves as camp director. ìItís unconditional acceptance, optimism, and a sense of adventure unlike anything theyíll find anywhere else.î

Medical staffing is coordinated by the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. About 30 percent of the campers remain on treatment during their stay and may require chemotherapy, blood counts, routine medications, or simple monitoring, according to the release.

Camp Fantastic is one of more than a dozen programs sponsored by Special Love, which was founded in 1983 by Tom and Sheila Baker after their 13-year-old daughter Julie died of lymphoma.

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