Balboa Park

‘These kids are magic': Camp for children with cancer celebrates 40 years

Camp Reach for the Sky gives kids a chance to put their worries aside

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They’ve been coming here once a week for 40 years — one week of take-my-mind-off-this fun.

“You come to have fun. You get to meet a lot more people,” smiled Estella Madrigal.

The 8-year-old third grader from Eastlake Elementary sat in the shade at this year’s Camp Reach for the Sky, a weeklong camp hosted by Oncology And Kids. It is reserved for children who have cancer or have a family member affected by cancer, and 2023 marks the camp’s 40th anniversary.

“This is the week where they get to come and just be free,” said camp director Lina Kern. “It fuels me. It fills me. It keeps everything in perspective, and these kids are magic.”

Many of the children at this year’s camp, hosted at the Girl Scouts Camp in Balboa Park, have parents or siblings who are fighting cancer.

“I’ve been asking them if they’re cancer kids or siblings, and, well, they are,” shrugged Estella. “I meet a lot more friends that get me.”

Estella said she suffered from osteosarcoma, a bone cancer.

“It was hard. It was really hard,” she sighed but then quickly smiled. “It feels so crazy because I never thought I was going to survive it, but here I am. Survived it.”

Kern called these kids “everything.”

“They’re the strongest human beings I’ve ever met,” Kern said.

And for at least this week, they are encouraged to focus on fun, not their diseases.

“It’s a thing in your life, but you’ll get through it,” concluded Estella.

Oncology And Kids hosts the camp every year. Children and their families are invited to participate for free.

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