"Camp Monarch is open to all adults who are cancer survivors," said Nancy Zerbe, a member of The Hospital Auxiliary. "We don't call them patients. We call them survivors. A cancer survivor can be someone like myself, who will be 11 years in remission in October, or someone who was diagnosed yesterday. And we refer to everybody as a survivor. The purpose is to get these people together to share their stories and let the person just now going through cancer see somebody like me who was a stage four.
"One of the most rewarding things last year [was] the first year we had a camper who had basically cancer of the appendix and all of us had never heard of it. And it was stage four and it did come back. Last year at the third camp, she came up front and I was telling everybody about her cancer, and another young lady was there and had her mother with her and her mother was a 20-year survivor of that same cancer. You should have seen their faces because there are not that many people who have that type of cancer. And for her to see a 20-year survivor, tears came to her eyes."
In addition to keynote speakers Jerry Carnes, an 11 Alive news reporter, and Louis Tonsmeire Jr., Camp Monarch is featuring presentations by cancer survivor Melanie Collier and Mary Wannall, owner of Gold's Gym in Cartersville; entertainment by gospel singers Diane Coker and Dolores Warren, Heritage Sunshine Bell Ringers and Country Pride Line Dancers; a craft project; cake walk; a World War II program at The Grand Theatre; and a tour of the Bartow History Museum.
For Zerbe, who spearheaded the initial event after learning about Northside Hospital's overnight camp for cancer patients, seeing how Camp Monarch has evolved has been a touching experience. Unlike other offerings that purchase already set-up programs, Camp Monarch is tailored specifically toward the Bartow County community.
"It was kind of a dream of mine and the auxiliary just embraced it. ... When you have cancer, everything's about the cancer," she said. "You just sort of become the cancer. So this is to give you not only encouragement from other survivors but also [an opportunity] to have fun and to be inspired. It's a three-day [event], packed full of fun, and we think we've got an excellent program again this year."
Another valuable component of Camp Monarch is Sharing Stories, which is led by Mitzi Oates on April 27 at 12:30 p.m.
"We all have a unique story, each person does, and I think we learn a lot from sharing other people's stories," said Oates, who is a volunteer chaplain at Cartersville Medical Center and bereavement coordinator and chaplain at Amedisys Hospice. "It can be very encouraging to the other people. It also helps us to validate our lives. I think it's important that each person is recognized as being a special and unique individual.
"I think the connections are huge because people come in from all walks of life, different journeys with their cancer. It could be three months [or] they could have been a 30-year survivor. So by hearing a brand new diagnosis and then [hearing] that someone else has battled that and overcome it or just even the fact that they went through it, helps them to get hope and be encouraged to say, 'I can do this, too. I now know someone who has done a similar journey.' And again, they're unique but you find those connections."
To attend the camp, interested individuals 18 and older need to pay a $10 registration fee by calling 678-721-5560 on Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pre-registration is required because space is limited, with only the first 50 individuals being admitted. The deadline to register is April 11.
For more information about Camp Monarch, call Zerbe at 678-602-0673 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.