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What Junior Camp Good Days means for kids: one girl's story

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Screaming on a roller coaster, or splashing your feet on a splash pad

A red, white and blue heart painted on your cheek.

Flossing. Dabbing.

Being a regular kid.

Isabella "Bella" Phelan's 7-year-old body has gone through so much already, after beating back B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia three times.

Last week, she was among 54 children ages 4 to 7 who either have cancer or have survived cancer who were treated to four delightful, carefree days at Junior Camp Good Days.

No thinking about chemo. Or radiation. Or needles or any of that stuff.

"She hasn't stopped talking about it," her mother, Jamie Phelan, said Saturday in a phone interview before picking her up from her final day there.

Bella has come home every day a little tired, but elated about all the fun she has had at the camp based at St. Philip's the Apostle Church in Cheektowaga, where just shy of 100 volunteers were on hand to make sure every kid had a memorable time.

The children were treated to a carnival and also went on field trips to Fantasy Island, the Explore & More Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Children’s Museum at Canalside, Billy Beez indoor playground, Palm Island Water Park and Get Air!

"I rode all the rides at Fantasy Island!" Phelan said her daughter gushed after that field trip.

It was just over three years ago when Bella was first diagnosed with leukemia.

"She had been sick off and on for a couple of months," her mother recalled. In the week or so before they learned what was ailing her, Bella was fatigued, pale and complaining of body aches.

"She was low energy, and that was not like Bella," her mother said.

Tests revealed it was leukemia and she began chemotherapy. She went into remission and attended her first Junior Camp Good Days that summer.

But last year, the cancer came back and she underwent a more intensive form of chemo to prep her for a bone marrow transplant. Her donor: her big sister, Peyton, who was 11, at the time.

"She was a perfect match," Phelan said.

That Halloween, doctors discovered there were still cancer cells in Bella's system and began a new approach called CAR-T cell immunotherapy.

"She did really good with that," Phelan said. After one more round of the new therapy, Bella was declared back in remission – and that meant Bella could go back to Junior Camp Good Days.

Bella had to wear a face mask when she went outside, and the staff paid extra attention when she complained of a headache. But none of that stopped her from enjoying the camp. She raced from one carnival activity to the next, gathering as many tickets as she could so she could collect prizes like little plastic rings for herself, her sister and her counselor.

The organization has been great to the whole family, Phelan said. It has offered a special camp for siblings of cancer patients, like Peyton, and provided family entertainment for the whole family.

"Our life has changed so much with this 'new normal,' " Phelan said. "They help us get away from it and be a family again. They're just amazing."



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