One of the young people I have been blessed to know lost her battle with cancer very early Tuesday morning, Aug. 14.
Over the past 33 years, since I started Camp Good Days and Special Times following the diagnosis of my youngest daughter, Teddi, with a malignant brain tumor, I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people. People of all ages, who in small ways and big ways, have had an impact on my life; and I like to believe that each one of them has left me with something that has helped me to become the person I am today.
Des Stone, the former editor of the Democrat & Chronicle’s editorial page, once described Camp Good Days as a place where the human spirit soars and a place that brings out the very best in mankind.
Some of those who truly exemplify the very best in mankind are the children I have met who are forced to grow up and become adults much too quickly. No child age nine, ten, 12 or 13 should have to come face to face with their own mortality. One of the cruelest parts of being a child diagnosed with cancer is that it robs the child of that very special time in all of our lives called childhood. That time when you have a sense of invincibility and feel like you will live forever.
One of the young people I have been blessed to know lost her battle with cancer very early Tuesday morning, Aug. 14. Melinda Gippe Andrus first came into my life 25 years ago when she was originally diagnosed with cancer age 13. Mel came to Camp Good Days first as a camper and stayed as a volunteer. She carried her battle with cancer throughout her life, with some obvious physical and visible signs and when she looked in the mirror or met new people, everyone could tell that she had gone through a difficult experience and some challenges. However, Mel never let cancer define who she was. She finished high school and went on to college. She passed her nursing boards and worked as a nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital, working her way up to being a supervising nurse. She married an exceptional gentleman who became her life partner and best friend. Despite all that was going on in her life, Mel always found time to care for others. When we had an opening on the Camp Good Days Board of Directors I invited Mel to serve. Not only was she an involved and active member, she continued to volunteer at the many sessions of our Women’s Oncology Program, bringing her love of jewelry-making and spending the day with the women teaching them how to make beautiful earrings, necklaces and bracelets. She brought all of her own materials and supplies for them to use.
Mel was someone who was my hero. No matter how bad or challenging of a day I had, when I was with her, she always made me feel better, and I am confident she had that effect on all those she came into contact with. She truly helped you to look at things and keep them all in the proper perspective.
Page 2 of 2 - This past February, Mel’s cancer returned with a vengeance and this past week SHE made the decision to stop the treatment and have hospice care in her home. I was honored that her husband called me on Monday and asked if I would visit her that afternoon. I am so grateful I was able to do that and have the chance to hold hands, one more time, with this gentle and extraordinary young lady, the day before she left this world.
Melinda will never know how she touched so, so many lives through being an inspiration for others by the way she handled the difficult hand in life she was dealt, through her work as a nurse, and through her giving spirit as a volunteer. She impacted my life so much, and I will carry our friendship and those things we shared with me all the days of my life. Our community and our Camp Good Days family has lost a shining star, and I have lost a very special angel.
Gary Mervis is chairman and founder of Camp Good Days and Special Times.