A Prescription for Courage
An Interview with Meera Ramamoorthy
For Meera Ramamoorthy, camp is a place where love of the outdoors, desire to work with children and passion for medicine meld into one. She first discovered SeriousFun Camps as a teenager. In the decade since, she has worked and volunteered as a counselor at camps across the world. Through her many experiences, Meera has developed a deep understanding of the joy and sense of possibility that SeriousFun camps provide.
Now a doctor, 27-year-old Meera faces her own challenge with serious illness. Despite her struggles, she continues to draw strength from the remarkable experiences she had at camp. We interviewed Meera to find out about her journey with SeriousFun and how it has helped her cope with her diagnosis.
What do you remember about your first summer as a counselor?
During a cabin spa night with ten 13-year-olds, five words casually popped up that were immediately understood. What kind do you have?” That’s it. Five words were all that were needed for a fellow camper to know that the subject was cancer. That is the magic of the camp – not the horses, pool, archery, boating and fishing, or the theater. It’s the sweetness of being understood. It’s the deep joy of knowing that every child they see is a cancer comrade. It’s the relief of knowing that their scars are their badges of belonging. And that is the best experience of all.
At which SeriousFun Camps have you worked or volunteered?
From 2005-2007, I was summer staff at Camp Boggy Creek in Florida. I have volunteered at several of the other camps; The Hole in the Wall Gang, Double H Ranch, Victory Junction, The Painted Turtle, Barretstown, and Over the Wall. When I first applied to be a counselor, there were only 5 camps: 3 in the U.S. and 2 in Europe. It’s incredible how much SeriousFun has grown! The songs, activities and the languages spoken may be different. Cabin groups may be called a pride, unit, bale or cottage, but camp is camp. To the campers and counselors, it’s the best camp on earth!
What is one of your best camp memories?
We had a surplus of rain ponchos. Every drawer and every cabinet was overflowing with them. Kelly, a fellow counselor, suggested a poncho fashion show. We had a cabin full of 15-year-olds with sickle cell anemia, who occasionally refused to participate in camp activities. We gave each girl a poncho, and explained that they had been invited to a fashion show, which would be held the last night of camp. The commitment and passion to showcase their creations was astonishing! On the night of the show, paparazzi lined the sidewalk, which had transformed into a runway. Ushers handed out popcorn, and the headlight of the golf cart created the perfect spotlight. One by one, the girls proudly strutted down the runway. It was magical.
Do you remember any stories about some of the kids you worked with?
After lunch, the whole camp sings songs together, and campers are given a chance to publicly appreciate someone for the nice things that they’ve done at the “Web of Kindness.” I remember watching one of our quieter campers wait in line, fidgety, as she listened to each person ahead of her say into the microphone what he or she was thankful for. It was her turn next. She approached the microphone, and the camp director kneeled to her height. This camper, who was living with epilepsy, cerebral palsy and significant developmental delays, had only spoken a few words all week. I could tell she really wanted to say something, but was nervous. The audience waited in pure silence, so eager and supportive to hear her. Slowly, the words slurred out, “I’d like to thank my cabin for making me feel like somebody,” and the camp cheered her name! Camp allows you to see a person for who they are; their illnesses don’t define them. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
What made you decide to go to medical school?
I have always wanted to be a doctor. As a kindergartner, my classmates expressed a desire to be a mermaid or unicorn when they grew up. I proudly and confidently said “doctor.” I probably could not explain my reasoning back then. But later in life, I had a powerful experience as a volunteer in the Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital that confirmed my interest.
How did you feel when you learned about your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular condition. I had been getting weaker for months, so in between classes and exams, I saw several specialists, and endured multiple procedures. It took a year before I received a diagnosis, but I knew in my heart and with my first year medical school education that something was seriously wrong. When I learned the severity, I was nearing the end of my second year. I was given the option to leave school and come home, but I had no interest in giving up on my dreams. I knew it would be challenging, so I took one day at a time. And the unknown future would be dealt with as it came.
Despite your illness, you continued on with medical school and are now a doctor. What inspired you to keep going?
Even though I knew the reality of my situation, camp creates and inspires hope, and to me, hope is that feeling that better and beautiful days lie ahead, despite how challenging life seems now. Hope is that little extra push that gets you out of bed each morning to face the day. Hope is a feeling that, no matter the odds, anything is possible.
What has illness taught you about yourself or about life that you may not have known before?
I have been given the gift to see the beauty in all aspects of life. While a positive attitude isn’t going to “cure” me of my illness, it certainly will make it easier to overcome the daily challenges that I encounter. I still have occasional periods of doom and gloom, but I try to let it pass as quickly as possible. Uncertainty may be in the equation, but creating balance is important. The mind is a powerful tool, and I must use it to my advantage. I’ve seen true challenge, but I know that anything is possible.
What would you say to a child that is thinking of attending a SeriousFun camp?
It’s hard being sick. I know it feels like your world is crashing down and life revolves around your illness. But something seriously fun can come from it – and that’s an experience at a SeriousFun Camp. You will laugh with friends so hard – harder than you ever have before. You will challenge your limits…and succeed. You will be heard and understood, inspired by individuality and experiences, and honored for courage.
What is the one thing you want people to know about SeriousFun camps?
We – campers, counselors, health professionals – come to camp and are forever changed. It is these shared experiences – the fun, the magic, the community, friendship, love – that resonate in our heart. Regardless of where we went to camp, whether California or Cambodia, we’ve been touched by the power of SeriousFun.
Meera Ramamoorthy, M.D. lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her parents and their bilingual Australian shepherd, Sammie.