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Posted: August 14, 2013 By SALLY VOTH The Winchester Star

Hayden Zavareei (left), 15, of Bethesda, Md., and Hannah Kjelvik, 15, of Hampton, learn about weapons and other late Middle Ages militaria from Norman Cary, a member of the Virginia Renaissance Faire at Camp Fantastic on Tuesday at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center in Warren County. The theme for this years camp is medieval magic. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

Lily Miller (center), 9, of Star Tannery, poses with a couple of her Camp Fantastic buddies Alessandra Vasilica (left), 8, of Falls Church, and Evie Brabant, 8, of Reston.

Blaze Chavonelle, 8, demonstrates how to properly hold a pike, a weapon used in Medieval times. The youngsters at this years Camp Fantastic were treated to a visit from members of the Virginia Renaissance Faire, who showed campers Medieval weaponry and armor, music, dance and crafts. In the Middle Ages, a pike would have been 10 to 25 feet long with an iron or steel spearhead. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

Camper Marisol Ramirez, 12, of Laurel, Md., tries on a close helm, a helmet that would have been wore by a knight on horseback.

FRONT ROYAL Indian Hollow Elementary School student Lily Miller loves swimming, horseback riding, dressing up like a princess, collecting ladybugs and having fun. But as a 9-year-old with leukemia, the Star Tannery resident has had to face a reality more sobering than any child should. For this week at least, Lily gets to focus on the fun stuff as she attends Camp Fantastic at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center in Warren County. The camp held for kids age 7 to 17 who have cancer or are in remission is put on by Special Love, a nonprofit support group for children with cancer in their family started by Tom and Sheila Baker, of Winchester. The National Institutes of Health and the 4-H Center have partnered with Special Love to put on the camp since 1983. This years theme is medieval magic. Program director Angela Ashman said a little more than 100 kids are attending this years camp, which started Sunday and ends Saturday. Activities include swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, tennis, art classes, cooking classes, a trip to a farm in Culpeper and a visit from the Virginia Renaissance Faire. In a Tuesday afternoon phone interview, Lily explained why she is attending the camp for the second year in a row. Because I like to make new friends and its a lot of fun, she said. Lily had a little harder time naming which activity she liked best. The horses no, the pool, has to be my favorite part, she said. Andrew Christianson, 13, is another repeat camper. The Olney, Md., boy is also undergoing treatment for leukemia. Im doing very well right now, he said. A couple weeks ago my platelets had been dropping. At Camp Fantastic he has been playing basketball and golf and taking a class on duct tape.

Its basically where you can make anything out of duct tape, like a T-shirt, hats, basically anything you can imagine, Andrew said. Its so much fun here. Just meeting new people, having old friends, to get to bond with them again. Also, like, the counselors are just awesome. One of those counselors is Sarah Swaim, a 24-year-old from Virginia Beach. Diagnosed with cancer in 2003, she attended the camp for several years. This is the second time shes been a counselor. The first time was in 2009, but Swaim took a few years off to have a stem-cell transplant after relapsing in 2010. [Im] feeling great now in fact, really great, she said on Tuesday. Swaim said she wanted to be a counselor because shes too old to be a camper. I dont want to be without this place, she said. This place is our home. We can be ourselves fully. There are no judgments. Its my favorite place with all my favorite people. They do such amazing things and are so selfless. I get all choked up when I talk about it. Camper Hayden Zavareei also used home to describe Camp Fantastic. This is my sixth year at camp, the 15-year-old from Bethesda, Md., said. I love it so much. Its like my home away from home. She finished cancer treatment eight years ago and hopes to return as a counselor. Also in remission is Hannah Kjelvik, 15, from Hampton Roads. Its fun meeting people who have the same issues as you do and you can relate with them, she said. We have campfires every night, and we do crazy crafts. The camp is free for the kids, Ashman said. There is a $25 registration fee, but it is frequently waived. Tuesday evenings Renaissance Faire visit with jousting and acting was to be followed today with the children getting to spend time with miniature ponies, goats, skydivers, remote-controlled airplanes and go-karts in Culpeper, Ashman said. Besides dozens of counselors, there are about 30 people on the medical staff at camp, Ashman said. Some of the children get chemotherapy during the week. The goal is to just let them have as much fun as possible, just get out, have fun and feel normal, Ashman said. We just want them to have the best week they possibly can because for some of them, its going to be their last week. Pediatric oncologist Dr. Stephen Chanock is medical director of Camp Fantastic. He said about 40 percent of the kids are in cancer therapy. Were able to bring kids who otherwise would not be able to go to camp, he said.

At school, the childrens appearances a bald head or a partially missing limb can single them out for ridicule, he said. They come here and bald is normal, Chanock said. Its a wonderful place. Tom Baker, Special Loves founder, sees the organization as a support group for children with cancer and their families. There are also camps available for siblings and family weekends through the charity, he said. One of my biggest thrills now is seeing campers who were small ... now come back as counselors, their cancer cured, Baker said. He and his wife founded Special Love after their 13-year-old daughter, Julie, died of lymphoma in 1976. Weve seen great things happen, Baker said. So has Malcolm Brewster, a 26-year-old counselor who started attending Camp Fantastic when he was 9. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor the year before. Brewster had surgery to remove some of the tumor and radiation to make the rest of it dormant. Hes been a camp counselor for 10 years. Its a great way for me as a counselor to give back because I went to this camp, Brewster said. I think anythings possible. I have seen some miracles happen here. Camp inspires children to live longer and do extraordinary things. For more information or to make a donation, visit, or call 888-930-2707, or find Special Love on Facebook. Contact Sally Voth at