Like so many kids, Kristen Gascon and Tiana Lacerva met when they were 8 years old during summer camp, but unlike many kids, they were both battling cancer.
“Honestly, it was one of the best things that could have ever happened,” Gascon said, reflecting on her time at Camp Reach for the Sky. “It’s hard to have a normal childhood. Kids at school don’t know what you’re going through, you’re in and out of school, and you don’t have a sense of normalcy.”
CR4TS is a free summer camp based in Southern California that gives kids who are fighting cancer and going through chemotherapy a chance to connect, share similar experiences and just have fun together. Gascon said it was a much-needed break from her battle with leukemia which she was diagnosed with when she was 8 years old.
“At camp, it was okay to be bald and normal to go through chemo and be tired or not feel right,” she said. “It gave me back my childhood for a week because all we did was have fun.”
Some of her favorite memories include climbing the rock wall, attending the dance, playing in the pool and building a raft to kayak across the river. But the most important thing made during CR4TS was lifelong friendships.
Lacerva, who was diagnosed with lymphoma when she was 8 years old, remembers how she and Gascon weren’t particularly close during camp because they slept in different cabins and weren’t together for a lot of the same activities. But when they both started working at the Kettner Exchange in Little Italy four years ago, they instantly reconnected.
“She came up to me and was like ‘Do you remember me? I’m Kristen from camp,’” Lacerva said. “Now we’re closer as adults than we ever were as kids.”
Much like their childhood, Gascon and Lacerva have supported each other through the tough times — like when Lacerva faced and beat thyroid cancer in 2016 — and encouraged each other to give back to the community that gave them so much. Lacerva is the director of events for The Seany Foundation, a local nonprofit that’s raised over 3.8 million dollars in the fight against childhood cancer and took over CR4TS six years ago when the American Cancer Society started closing down different services all over the country.
In addition to volunteering as a camp counselor, Gascon is also lending a hand in Seany’s upcoming Get Well Soon Wellness Retreat. Held Jan. 26 at 11 a.m. at the Soledad Club, 5050 Soledad Road, the event includes a journaling exercise, gentle toga, light meditation, and self-care techniques. While it’s open to everyone, Lacerva said it was created with the parents of children with cancer in mind.
“Cancer impacts the entire family,” she said. “A lot of parents of campers are fatigued and in need of an environment for healing. It’s hard to let go of the grief and feelings of helplessness.”
Gascon will be leading the journaling and yoga portion of the day, which she said is a chance for adults to not only give back to themselves but to an amazing foundation; one that’s she experienced the positive impacts of firsthand.
“The bonds you make in camp are like nothing else in life,” she said. “There’s a deeper understanding and support. I didn’t run into Tiana for a solid 10 years, but we instantly felt that connection and bond of camp.”
For more information about the wellness retreat, CR4TS, and The Seany Foundation, visit theseanyfoundation.org.