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Lombard's TLC Camp inspires hope

LOMBARD – During its 31-year legacy, the TLC Camp that is hosted each year by the Lombard Junior Women's Club has become something of a safe-haven for children battling cancer and their siblings.

The camp ran this week at Sunset Knoll with upwards of 80 children participating. More than 50 of those children are battling cancer now, and many of the counselors are cancer survivors who come back every year to stay involved.

It's a camp that centers around returning favors and having as much fun as possible during a week's time.

This was the 11th year of camp for Beric Wessely, 24, of Chicago who first participated as a camper when his cousin had leukemia. Being at TLC Camp was a way for him to forget about the stresses that cancer brought to his home and to spend time having fun with other kids.

Now, Wessely comes back to camp every year to volunteer as a counselor to make other children's experiences positive.

"[I became a counselor] because of the counselors I had as a camper," Wessely said. "How fun and energetic they were. I wanted to be like that."

One of Wessely's campers this year is 9-year old Ian of Fort Myers, Fla., who will celebrate his birthday on Monday. He's been coming to camp for the past five years and said his counselors are "pretty good."

He started attending camp when he lived in Villa Park with his family, and each year he comes back to spend the week with his camp friends. Ian's still a little young to volunteer as a counselor, but said he probably will in a couple years.

"I can handle it," he said.

TLC Camp offers a traditional day camp experience for children with cancer and their siblings. The kids do arts and crafts, take field trips to places like Enchanted Castle, the movie theater, Fitz's Spare Keys bowling alley in Elmhurst and the Shedd Aquarium.

One highlight of the camp each year is the carnival, which includes games, special snacks and a visit from the Lombard Fire Department.

Many of the current counselors went to camp when they were young and sick with cancer. At the time, they looked up to the older counselors and now they try to serve as role models for the kids as an example that cancer is beatable.

"I think the kids look up to the counselors and think 'I can beat this,' and be like them some day," Wessely said.

Another counselor, 17-year-old Nate Talbot of Chicago, has volunteered at camp for five years. His family got involved when his younger brother had cancer, and a few years later the cancer is back again.

Being sick is not something that's discussed at camp, and for the kids it's a break from hospitals, doctors and treatments.

Talbot's 11-year-old brother had been in the hospital this week, but was scheduled to rejoin the group on Thursday.

"No one really talks about [cancer] at camp," Talbot said. "My brother had a great time. That's all he talks about is camp."

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