Victoria Barrios still remembers how life was like for her at seven years old: living with her two aunts while her parents took care of her sister Serenity, diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at three years old.

She remembers the confusion she had to face when she didn’t know why her family was so physically distant, while they spent so much time in the hospital. “I didn’t know what cancer was, honestly,” Victoria confessed. The biggest hurdle she had to go through at this time was when her relationship with Serenity was interrupted. “I didn’t really know her, or [what she was like]. I never got to see her, and when I did, it was only a couple of minutes.” The most she could offer was her sympathy as she recognized the family, both as a whole and individually, was trying to endure this difficult journey.

Victoria: A Sense of Hope

When a social worker at Children’s Hospital Loma Linda recommended the family give Camp Ronald McDonald a try in 2006, it was only natural for the family to immediately sign up for Family Camp. Hearing that there was a place that unites families who have been affected by childhood cancer gave the family, most especially Victoria, a sense of hope in restoring how close they used to be. In the matter of that one weekend, Camp proved the Barrios right—it was exactly the experience they needed to reunite their family.

Being the oldest sibling, Victoria was the first to experience Summer Camp. The one weekend spent at Family Camp put Victoria at ease because she knew that she would receive the same love and understanding from the Camp family that she had during Family Camp.

Victoria: Connections

Along with looking forward to the Wilderness Outdoor Leadership Program (W.O.L.P.) Hike, playing Dice Tag, and singing “Fill My Cup” before the campfire slideshow, Victoria feels that the companionship at Camp is what makes her feel so welcomed every year. “The environment at Camp was something so new and unique in my life; it intrigued me from the start,” Victoria explains. “I absolutely love that there is zero judgment. There is this silent understanding that flows through camp. We all know we have been hurt in the past, and we have that in common.”

While being a part of the Camp family, Victoria connected with other campers going through the same experiences.  She was also able to come to a better understanding about herself and Serenity. “My relationship with my sister was put on pause for a long time [until coming to Camp]. She was a very shy girl going through her treatment, but as soon as she got up the mountain, a switch came on, and she was so bubbly and happy.” They both admit to having upbeat attitudes back at home but they can really let lose when up at Camp!

Serenity shares her Camp favorites, including singing the song “Kumbaya” at the end of both campfires, playing headmaster in Adventure, and playing improv games during theatre. She will also never forget the encouragement she felt from her cabin along with camp counselor Mama T, who assured Serenity that she could make it through the 50 ft. climbing tower. With determined mindset and a strong finish, Serenity remembers the reward of her perseverance; overlooking the entire Camp from the top of the tower.

Victoria: Camp Will Always Be A Special Place

Victoria and Serenity still enjoy coming to Camp after ten years, while bringing along their half siblings, Jake and Miranda, and for the very first time, their little sister Kaydance. Victoria’s last summer is this year, but she knows Camp will always be a part of her.  She especially felt her legacy would live on when she stamped her handprint on one of the camp teepees—a memory she won’t soon forget.

Though Victoria enjoys coming to Camp with her siblings, one important part of the Camp family that Victoria truly appreciates is all the counselors.  She and Serenity look forward to being counselors themselves one day. While one of the main roles of a counselor is keep the campers safe and respectful of the community, Victoria also appreciates when counselors are honest and open, sharing advice and personal stories that help her navigate school and ponder her future career choice.

While being a camper is for the most part, exclusive, since there has to be a diagnosis among the family, being a counselor is the most open opportunity (with the exception of an age limit and application process) for anyone to experience Camp. “People should apply to be a counselor, even if they weren’t affected by childhood cancer, because it gives them an example of why we shouldn’t take things for granted,” Victoria concludes. “There are people that have it way worse than we do, and we have to be thankful for everything we have all the time.” Now that Victoria has all her siblings and half-siblings coming to Camp with her, happily in good health, she’s glad to know she has another family, better known as the Camp family, who have experienced the same trials as her yet come together with understanding.