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Dec 22

Christmas memories of “The Ones That Got Away”

“I like fishing for fish, but sometimes I just like fishing for no fish. I am kinda happy when the fish get away. Then, they don’t get caught.” – Enrique, a camper at the Greater Kansas City Camp Quality for kids with cancer

At Christmastime, Joyce Branson of Higginsville remembers fondly the kids from Camp Quality “who got away”, the ones who sadly passed on due to cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.

It is hard not to think about them, she says, because they changed her life.

Joyce along with Paulette Augustine wrote a book, published this summer, and titled “The Ones That Got Away”. In the collection of stories about campers, Joyce describes her 17-plus years of teaching kids how to fish at the Greater Kansas City Camp Quality, one of four in the State of Missouri and of several throughout the country.

The book title, Joyce says, refers to the children lost to cancer, but it also reflects on how these kids got away from cancer, got away from hospitals and got away from misunderstanding and ridicule from their peers.

The only thing these kids often want for Christmas is a trip to Camp Quality next summer where he or she can be a normal child and where their fellow campers accept them for who they are.

Sadly, Zac and Hope, two of Joyce’s fishing pupils who are featured in short stories in her book, succumbed to cancer this year.

“Zac, the Golf Cart Boy”, is about Zac’s affinity for golf carts. Joyce remembers him well because she says you can’t help but smile if you ever met Zac.

Joyce writes, “Three years ago I met Zac when he first came to camp. He had the most beautiful smile and was so cute…little did I know he would change my life. I had a golf cart, so we became instant buddies. Every time I would come around, he wanted a ride…it was no problem. We went everywhere on that thing…I think he enjoyed the freedom the golf cart provided, with the wind blowing in his face. As we rode, he did not have to think about his cancer.”

Then there is a sweet vignette about a little girl named Hope titled “The Beauty Shop of Hope”. Carol, the camp beautician, recalls in the story, “Hope came down to the beauty shop, and of course since she had no hair, she was probably thinking that there would be nothing I could do for her. I said, well Hope, hold on—we will think of something.”

Carol said she thought and thought…she made a stencil of a flower, then carefully placed it on Hope’s head, and sprayed on colors over the stencil. The smile of hope that Hope gave Carol was one she says she will never forget. She added beads for sparkle and ‘coolness’, making Hope the fashion leader for the camp that summer.

There are many more similar stories in the book, each heart-warming, humorous and touching.

And Joyce, “the fish lady”, continues year after year to bring happiness and healing to kids by coaching them on how to fish. Some of the campers who live in the city, she says, have never seen a fish swimming in a lake, they get their lines impossibly tangled and are horror-struck by cutting up worms to put on hooks. By the time camp ends, they are fishing with the best of them, she says.

Well, almost all of them, she laughs. Joyce remembers one little boy who was all set to fish for the first time—line was ready and the bait was on the hook. She said, “Ok, throw in your line”, and he did.

The little guy threw in the line, pole and all, and turned to look at Joyce as if to say, “Now what? You said to throw it in.”

In camper Susie’s story in the book, she makes a wish about increasing understanding of her illness. She asks Joyce: “I wish kids at school knew about this camp. Could you come to my school and tell kids about the place so they could understand, like you people do? Then, they wouldn’t make fun of me anymore.”

And may I suggest that if you are still looking for a way to help others at Christmas time or anytime for that matter, consider buying these books as gifts or for youth groups in order to raise awareness of childhood cancer.

Joyce is donating all the proceeds from the book to the camp and to other children’s charities. The book can be found on amazon.com for $16.00 and is published by Authorhouse.

As the back cover explains, “Everything associated with Camp Quality is such a positive experience. For six days, campers, companions, and staff members look cancer in the eye and tell the dreaded disease that it can be beaten.”