- Associated Press - Thursday, July 17, 2014

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - They are the most normal group of kids you can imagine, except they are all cancer survivors.

When they got out of a van last week to canoe on the tranquil waters of String Lake, there was the bustle of games and conversation that accompanies every children’s camp.

Canoeing is one of many experiences that nine cancer survivors, ages 11 to 19, had during the weeklong Children’s Grand Adventure.

Founded in 2008 by part-time Jackson resident Stacey Kayem, the camp brings young cancer survivors from Houston to experience the therapy of nature together in the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. The group partners with Teton Science Schools each summer.

Campers are selected through a recommendation and screening process that ensures they can participate in the activities.

Kids benefit in many ways from the program, said Dr. David Poplack, director of Texas Children’s Cancer Center in Houston.

“We can treat the children, but to have them heal takes more than just the medications we can give them,” Poplack told the News&Guide; in 2013. “This experience has a major impact in terms of improving their quality of life, their outlook, their confidence, giving them a positive attitude.”

For some the adventure begins with the first step on an airplane. This year’s group included two first-time fliers.

With activities like wildlife-watching float trips, riding the Aerial Tram and camping in Yellowstone National Park, there are first-time experiences for everyone.

As the campers paddled along String Lake, one boy comforted a first-time canoer, talking about overcoming his fears of snakes and alligators the first time he canoed.

The chaperones from Houston are both past patients. Bree Kulhanek was on her sixth trip as a leader and George Bember his fourth. Bember was one of only four campers on the inaugural Grand Adventure, and he credits it as one of the best experiences of his life.

Diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma at age 15, Bember faced stage IV cancer, which went into remission after only six months of chemotherapy.

“This is just another way to give back,” Bember said. “This is my niche.”

It was Kulhanek who invited him to lead the trip.

“She asked me at a gala, and I didn’t even have to think,” he said. “Yes, of course, yes.”

Story Continues →