Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Counselor finds grace helping others

Express Staff Writer

Two of the youngest campers at Camp Rainbow Gold dance in the audience during the VIP Talent Show and Luau.

Bradley Strickwerda is a shy, kind, athletically inclined 20-year-old. His family is of Dutch heritage and it shows in his pink skin and brilliant blue eyes. But Strickwerda, a counselor at Camp Rainbow Gold, has six inoperable brain tumors that are growing and spreading. He has been fighting the disease for the past five years.

Raised in Meridian, the fifth of eight children born to James and Linda, Strickwerda played football, track and field and anything else that had action and motion involved. But after football season when he was still in middle school, he woke up feeling the way he thought people who had had a stroke must feel. He was sent to a neurologist when the family doctor could not help. Immediate brain sur-gery was performed to remove a soft-ball size tumor. Four or five more surgeries followed, as well as radia-tion treatment.

With a shy smile, Strickwerda explained that since his right side is affected he has trouble ?running and stuff. So, I taught myself to be left handed.? He also learned to write, play tennis and throw a football with his left hand. That year he began coming to Camp Rainbow Gold, a free, weeklong camp for children diagnosed with cancer. The camp is just north of Ketchum at Cathedral Pines.

There he was a camper for two years, and last week spent another week as a counselor for the third year.

?I just have to know what the Lord wants me to do,? Strickwerda said, while sitting in the camp?s art tent on VIP day, Wednesday, Aug. 11. In the background, sounds of the annual talent show could be heard.

He plans to go on a mission this year and intends to fulfill that obliga-tion near Caldwell, where he is en-rolled as a pre-medical major at Al-bertson?s University.

?I wasn?t supposed to last this summer. I may have five months, it?s really gradual,? he admits reluctantly. ?I try not to concentrate on the dis-ease. I?m fine talking about it, but I?m not ?oh, I have this disease and I?m going to die.? I try to look on the positive side.?

And Strickwerda has found that path with grace and a sweet nature that seems to rejects any bitterness.

?I was the Prom King at Meridian High School in 2003, and at I have tons of friends.?

He remains interested in sports and still plays when he can, ?Unpro-fessionally, yeah,? he grins mischie-vously as though it might have been misunderstood. ?My tennis is not that bad, actually. I?ve never been into baseball or basketball, but I go to games and watch friends.?

Back home in Caldwell, he also babysits and is a Scout leader. He reads a lot, he said, mostly medical textbooks, and books on health.

But it?s what he is able to contrib-ute at Camp Rainbow Gold that makes him happiest. Strickwerda confides that he prefers being a coun-selor than a camper.

?The kids, they all have in com-mon the reason they?re here. After the first day they come out of their shell.? As for Kris and Rob Cronin, who are the directors of the camp, he said, ?They?re awesome. I love them.?

Before he was diagnosed with cancer, he recalls watching ?Rescue 911? a show on television.

?I loved it,? he said beaming. In high school he started focusing on sports medicine. ?I probably would have been a pre-med major anyway,? he said. ?I want to help other people.?

The hardest part of his illness, Strickwerda said was his loss of memory and all the drugs. He takes one drug to control the swelling of the tumors, another for his stomach, which is adversely affected by the anti swelling drug, one for his mouth and another for seizures. He takes yet another for his concentration and another for mood swings that come from all the above.

?I don?t know what they all are. They tell me what to do, and I take it.?

Despite everything Strickwerda loves to go hiking and camping and to be in the mountains ?My favorite thing to do is come up here. It?s beautiful.?

He won?t however, and never has, taken part in the talent show. ?I?m too shy.?

But he watched with a big grin on his face, and his blue eyes dancing as his cabinmates sang to the crowd in the hot mountain sun.

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