Camp Periwinkle provides children cancer patients refuge from hospital life

HOUSTON – The memories made at summer camp last a lifetime, but sadly not every kid has the chance to experience camp.

For those who have been diagnosed with cancer, the challenge to find a summer adventure can seem impossible.

But overcoming the odds is exactly what they’re doing this week at Camp Periwinkle.

It’s the 33rd year for Camp Periwinkle, and along the way it has impacted thousands of young lives, including camp counselor Laura Cowling.

“You’re surrounded by people who get what you’re going through. It just makes it just a great experience and I think you can really see that when the kids are here,” Cowling said.

Periwinkle is not your average summer camp.

Sure it’s got horseback riding, swimming, ropes courses, camp dances and every other typical week-long overnight camp experience, but the difference is, nearly all of the campers have been diagnosed with cancer.

As Cowling puts it, it’s all about “just giving kids who’ve been treated at Texas Children’s Cancer Center the best time ever (by) just having a normal camp experience.”

“When I first came to Periwinkle, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. And then as the week went on, I did not want to go home,” second-year camper Avery Speaks said.

Nearly two years ago, to the day, Speaks was diagnosed with a type of leukemia.

“I broke my arm on my electric scooter and so I went to the orthopedic doctor and one of my nurses was like, ‘Oh you look pale.’ So she did labs, and she told me my blood count was low, and we had to go to the hospital and the next day we found out that I had ALL, that’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia.”

Oftentimes a cancer diagnosis can mean the end to many of those “regular kid” activities – including summer camp. However, with a full-time medical staff and an abundance of counselors like Cowling, the kids of Camp Periwinkle are able to nearly forget about their battle with cancer and just focus on having fun.

“It’s, like, so cool just to spend some time out of the hospital and just have a good time,” Speaks said.

Thanks to the Periwinkle Foundation, all campers attend free of charge. To be a part of Camp Periwinkle, kids must be ages 7-15 and oncology patients from the Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers.