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BASE Camp's escape artists

Players on a stage for a day, kids from BASE Camp escape from worry as they slip into costumes for a play to culminate a week of art and fun at Maitland’s Swoope Studios. Owner Sandy Bonus teaches the cancer-fighting kids how to paint and play characters on stage.

Players on a stage for a day, kids from BASE Camp escape from worry as they slip into costumes for a play to culminate a week of art and fun at Maitland’s Swoope Studios. Owner Sandy Bonus teaches the cancer-fighting kids how to paint and play characters on stage.

Sarah Wilson

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The bandage wrapping 5-year-old Trevor Scheerer’s right calf at the end of summer camp could have come from any average little boy accident — too quick of a turn on his bike, a tumble chasing his older sister Emily, a close encounter with some basketball blacktop. But the story behind it has followed him for a year and a half of his life.

“I would say break a leg, but I won’t,” says art camp leader Sandy Bonus, nodding her head toward the boy dressed in the beige Florida panther suit in her Maitland art studio.

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“Why not?” Trevor asks innocently, fiddling with his whiskered cat hat.

“It’s stage-talk for good luck, but we don’t want you to hurt another paw, so we’ll stick with ‘good luck!’” Bonus said with a smile as she straightened out his furry outfit.

It’s minutes before show time at Sandy Bonus Fine Arts, five days since art camp started, and two weeks and a day since Trevor sat through two hours of surgery removing what’s left of a stage-four malignant tumor in his right leg.

Each of his 10 fellow campers have similar stories, though the villains come by different names. For Trevor, it’s Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. Trevor calls it a ‘bump’ in his leg — a bump that’s brought about 54 weeks of chemo and counting, and hundreds of nights in the hospital since a doctor found it in March of last year.

To learn more about Sandy Bonus’ Fine Arts Swoope Studios in Maitland, visit sandybonusfineart.... For more information about BASE Camp, visit basecamp.org

The campers surrounding Trevor are mixed between those battling an illness and their siblings. But Bonus said she makes it a point not to distinguish between the two during the camp – giving the kids an equal shot at specialized attention during their week together.

Orlando’s BASE Camp – an acronym for Believe, Achieve, Support, and Educate – returned to Sandy Bonus Fine Arts for its ninth annual art camp Aug. 5, offering a week of escape and refuge from hospital stays for children battling cancer. From the first day of shaky brushstrokes on Monday to the cheers as the curtain falls on Friday, Bonus said it’s a week of art, life lessons, and world where cancer goes away.

“When they’re creating they’re not sick anymore,” Bonus said. “They are their health. Everyday it’s an escape, refuge and a respite from their illness.”

Glittered feathers, googly eyes and hand-sewn patches cover kids dressed as peacocks, owls, rats, trees and tortoises ready to take to the handcrafted stage out back of Bonus’ Maitland fine arts studio.

Artist O.L. Samuels inspired the play set in a Florida orange grove. The animals, different shapes and sizes, fight to keep their home safe and to stay alive.

“Everyone has something to give,” the play’s narrator says just before the curtain call. “This grove isn’t just about one, it’s an ecosystem, it’s about everyone … It’s time for you creatures to make everyday your masterpiece.”

From a fountain filled with goldfish, a garden growing exotic herbs, to the patchwork fabric covered stage under an oak tree canopy, the camp concocts its own little bit of magic in the middle of Maitland, longtime art camp volunteer Lauren Sealy said.

“Kids light up when they come here,” Sealy said. “It says a lot that they want to come back year after year. [Sandy] really does magic here.”

But whether the kids return isn’t up to the kids sometimes, Bonus said. Treatments take over. The hospital calls. The cancer comes back.

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Little actors take the stage for a once-a-year camp for kids battling cancer. The kids rehearse for a performance all week while learning art too.

“See you next year” and wishes to rewind the week echo through the art studio as kids shed their costumes, emotions encapsulating everything Bonus hopes the camp can accomplish – inspiration, unity and hope.

“We want the opportunity for the children to feel happy and healthy and have a lot of fun,” Bonus said. “… Art fills the holes in our lives, it gives us a way to feel whole.”

For five days, campers spent time ruminating on the mantra, “I am health. I am strength. I am happy.”

“Saying that over and over again is so powerful because your body listens,” Bonus said. “You say it enough and I believe it really starts to come true.”

It’s the make-believe that becomes reality for the kids who keep fighting.

Back in that orange grove, in the world they created on the stage, the taped-over audio acted out by the little performers cut out just in time to skip over the panther’s only line. A second year performance veteran, Trevor the panther sat patiently on the edge of the stage, pretending to lick his front paws.

A quick eye-dart toward Sandy, who mouths words and gestures movements in the wings, was met with a smile, a shrug and “keep going” motion. The play must go on.

“Poor Trevor’s lines got cut,” Bonus said, “but he – they all – did such a great job.”

This, she said, is reality – and the real reason for BASE Camp. Lines get cut short. Bad things happen. What matters, she said, is how you handle the recovery.