Keeping his promise - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Keeping his promise

Bunch organizing fundraiser for cancer camp he once attended

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Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 12:00 am

Brandon Bunch knows what it's like not to have a normal childhood.

The now 20-year-old can mark that his carefree youth ended at age 7, on Halloween night.

"I just got this really sharp pain," recalls the Coeur d'Alene resident, originally from Meridian, of when he was rough housing with his father. "Over the next three months, the pain just progressively got worse and worse."

An MRI finally revealed a softball-sized tumor resting on a nerve, under his spine. Thus started the lengthy process of eradicating cancer from Bunch's still-developing body.

That included immediate surgery, followed by wearing a back brace for several months, and later going through months of radiation.

"It was a scary process," Bunch said. "For about a week after the surgery, I wasn't really able to walk at all."

Obviously, it made being a kid a little harder.

Like not being able to play at recess, when he wore the back brace. And the bully who taunted him with the nickname "cancer boy."

"It was a tough experience," Bunch said. "Other kids on the playground don't know what you're going through."

There was one exception to the pain and awkwardness.

A venue to still be a kid, where others knew the mental and physical catharsis he had endured.

It was Camp Rainbow Gold, summer camp for children with cancer, located in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Bunch first attended the camp after surgery when he was 7, and he faithfully returned every summer for more than a decade. He recalls years of enjoying archery, arts and crafts, bon fires, dances, always with other children who had survived similar treatment, or worse.

"It was amazing," Bunch said, adding that he returned as a counselor in his older years. "It was the first time I was able to really just kind of forget what I'd gone through, not have to worry about my athletic ability at the time. I didn't have to worry about what the other kids thought about me."

Above all, Bunch remembers when major financial sponsors of the camp would visit to see their donations at work.

"I just remember seeing some of these big time businesses giving checks for $10,000, $20,000," Bunch recalled. "I told myself, 'When I grow up, I'm going to do that. I'm going to give everything I can give to this camp.'"

The North Idaho College student is keeping his vow.

Together with a handful of other NIC students, Bunch is organizing a fundraiser to benefit two Idaho summer camps for children with cancer.

One is the Camp Rainbow Gold that he attended as a child, and the other Camp Goodtimes East in Post Falls, a camp new to the area that primarily serves the Inland Northwest region.

Hopefully Bunch, now cancer free and a business major, can help other kids have the experiences that gave some of his childhood back, he said.

"I can't even tell you all the love that is surrounded with that camp," he said of Camp Rainbow Gold. "I don't even know if there's one person who's ever gone one year and never gone back."

The March 30 fundraiser will include a cocktail social hour, silent auction, live music and three-course dinner at The Coeur d'Alene Resort.

Kari Allen, camp director at Camp Goodtimes East in Post Falls, said she was surprised to see a group of 20-something college students undertaking such an effort.

"The young men doing this, I'm thrilled," Allen said. "I've met with them, they seemed like great guys and are very excited to do this for us."

The camp served 129 children with cancer or who have survived cancer last year, she said. Newcomers are also invited to bring a sibling or friend.

The camp, free for all participants, is essential for the children, Allen said.

Kids who have become dependent on hospital staff and family members can have a stretch of freedom to interact with others their age, she said. They can swap their stories of survival.

"There's a real comfort in getting to know each other, meeting other kids going through the same thing," Allen said. "It's great for kids who are going through treatment to meet survivors who have made it through."

Camp Goodtimes East, located at Ross Point in Post Falls since 2005, depends on donations to function, she added.

An annual Spokane fundraiser covers much of the operation, but "there's still always that need for additional funds," she said.

The fundraiser for the camps is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on March 30 at The Coeur d'Alene Resort.

Tickets cost $55 for individuals; $100 for a couple; and $350 for a group of eight.

The organizers are also seeking business sponsorships.

To purchase tickets or become a sponsor, contact Bunch at 412-6421; or at bbunch@students.nic.edu. Tickets will be on sale up through mid-March, Bunch said.

The organizers are encouraging ticket purchases and sponsorships as soon as possible, he said.

"I think a lot of people are just unaware of how significant these camps are to kids who go through such serious surgeries and procedures as kids, and how life changing it really is to us as survivors," Bunch said.

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