Lindsay Braunwalder was diagnosed with medulloblastoma just before her 9th birthday. She underwent a year of treatment for a walnut-sized tumor at the base of her brain stem, and though she doesn’t remember a lot about that year, “I do remember camp,” she says.
“That first year changed my life because it changed my outlook,” she says. “I saw others in similar situations succeed. I found a support system I didn’t know I needed. After that week, I came home and walked off the bus a different kid.”
She’s been to Camp Rainbow Gold every year since, most recently as a volunteer. She received a Camp Rainbow Gold scholarship for college each of her three years at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., from the organization. It meant a lot to have it, she says. Now, she is on the scholarship selection committee and also helps run the Survivors Supporting Survivors teen group.
“I have conversations with the kids and we compare circumstances,” Braunwalder says. “We talk about when someone had gotten teased, or about when people stare at you. As a kid that was annoying, because people would think I was a boy. We bond over these things. There are things you can only discuss openly at camp.”
Most people don’t realize that the effects of childhood cancer last a lifetime, Braunwalder says.
She deals with some hearing loss, a side effect of her chemo and radiation treatments, and struggles with the fear of her cancer returning.
“You always have a heightened awareness,” she says. “My hearing loss is getting worse. It will never be perfect again. If I need cochlear implants, then that’s what I’ll do. If anything goes wrong, if you get a headache, you think the cancer is back.”
That’s why Camp Rainbow Gold will always be a part of her life.
“I met lifelong friends at camp,” she says. “I’m so thankful that I can give back and supply the same experience to others that helped me.”