Meet Over The Wall camper Benny
In 2017, 11-year-old, Benny from Dundee was sent home from school with complaints of a sore throat and fever. After visiting the doctors, a diagnosis of tonsillitis was made and Benny was prescribed a course of antibiotics. However, over the weekend, Benny broke out in a rash that started on his ankles and spread to his torso. Initially Benny’s parents thought this was a reaction to antibiotics, but after several tests in hospital, Benny and his family received the devastating news that Benny had leukaemia and required an immediate transfer through to Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children to start chemotherapy.
Benny spent over a month in hospital and after that he was only able to attend school on occasions while the frequent hospitalisations for fevers continued due to his low immune system. He missed out on most of his final year of primary school, and the annual residential trip - an event he was really looking forward to. Whilst in treatment, Benny had to be within an hour’s distance from the hospital in case of a spike in temperature. He still requires weekly hospital visits as part of his recovery plan.
Ben’s mum Clare describes the impact that illness has had on Benny: “Despite his attendance in year seven being as low as 36%, the school explained that he had done exceedingly well - much better than expected - but whilst he wasn’t behind in learning, his friendships had suffered.”
“If a child spends a whole year only spending time with parents and medical staff, it has a big effect on them. In Benny’s case he developed a mature, stoic approach to everything. A year of intense illness gave him a strong burst of maturity and at only 12 years old, he had made plans of his education and career. He could tell you the names of all his medicines and what they did, what their side effects were. He became very mature. But, when he saw his peers he found he was speaking on a different level to them, that they were not as serious about life - and so he became aware that a disconnection between himself and his peers had developed.”
Benny’s chemotherapy treatment has a vast number of physical side effects, one of which is a huge lack of stamina. “Inevitably, boys move around a lot, and often Benny struggles to keep up with his friends. They will just leave their houses and go down to the beach – it’s a 20 minute walk away to a nice white sandy beach where all the children hang-out- but, I can’t really let Benny go out alone and this of course, has an effect on him.”
After discovering Over The Wall and applying for Benny to attend camp, his family noticed a huge change in Benny’s mental wellbeing. “When Benny came back from camp he came back hopeful and so full of plans, he wanted to bake, to rock climb and to try new things, he came back full of life.” explains Clare. “We hadn’t realised to what extent his mental wellbeing had suffered until he returned. It was then that we really saw the true value of Over The Wall camp. It improved his mental wellbeing incredibly; he came back in a much better place. As a parent there are certain things you can do to address physical wellbeing. I can feed him well, make sure he does his physiotherapy, ensure he has had his medication - but for mental wellbeing - there is only so much you can do.”
“Hanging out with friends, laughing and not having a care in the world, it’s all so important and Benny was able to do exactly that at camp. He loved the independence, he loved the fact he could do things himself. Camp was a memorable experience that was only his. It has also given him a stronger sense of independence - it gave him the experience of looking after himself - it opened his mind to trying new things. He loved being somewhere where someone wasn’t continuously watching over him with an eager eye. He had a break from someone always asking ‘Are you ok? Should we take your temperature? Do you need anything? Have you had your liquids for the day? Camp also alleviated us from the stresses and pressures of everyday life. Even Jack, our eldest child, has been able to attend Over The Wall’s camp for siblings and this was great for him. As hard as you try not to put the sibling second, we often have to ask Jack to change or alter his own plans as a result of family care for Benny - and this makes it hard for him to find his own identity within the family. The sibling camp really helped. As a child with illness, Benny has a lot of sources that he could use (although we don’t) such as psychologists, an oncology team and ad hoc charities - but there isn’t really anything for the siblings - that is apart from Over The Wall, and this is especially great for teen siblings.”
“Benny’s greatest moment was conquering the climbing the wall. He said he felt such a sense of achievement. We never would have thought there would be such an activity for a child undergoing chemotherapy.”
If you are interested in applying for camp in 2020, applications open in October 2019. To find out more about Over The Wall camp, go to www.otw.org.uk
Why not volunteer for Over The Wall?
Every year Over The Wall needs around 800 volunteers to help with camps across the UK- including both clinical and non-clinical volunteers. Participating at camp will provide you with a unique and unforgettable experience, allowing you to create new friendships and develop new skills, whilst making a positive impact on children’s lives.