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On being silly: The “magic” of camp through Nurse Judy’s eyes

31 May 2024

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2024 05 31 CQWCD nurse Judy

There’s something about being around Judy Lanauze that brings a sense of safety, care, and joy. Over the last eleven years, Nurse Judy has been a familiar and welcome face at Camp Quality Wellington – and her retirement from the role this year marks the end of a long, heartfelt history of touching moments, special connections, and of course many, many giggle fits.

From Wellington Hospital to Camp Quality

After a career as a teacher, Judy became a nurse at age 41, and eventually worked in the paediatric day ward at Wellington Hospital. There, she met dozens of kids and their whānau who were going through the toughest time of their lives. 

Through the Child Cancer Foundation, Judy agreed to try out volunteering as a camp nurse at the Wellington/Central Districts summer camp in 2013. In her words, “That was it. I was hooked.”

She describes, “Seeing the kids that I nursed through their cancer journeys in this amazing space where they were just being regular kids again – it was incredible. It was like they had climbed this huge mountain, and camp was where they could come back down the other side.”

Since then, Judy hasn’t missed a camp. She has gotten to know countless campers, many of whom she also knew in hospital. One year, she realised that out of the 70 or so kids at camp, she had nursed about 30! She’s also developed beautiful friendships with the fellow camp nurses, three of whom have also returned again and again for eleven years.

A few years later, Judy experienced the tragic effects of cancer on a very personal level, when her sister passed away from lung cancer, and her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. While her daughter has now spent six years cancer-free, it made the relevance and the importance of dedicating time and love towards Camp Quality even stronger for Judy.

Embracing the fun of camp

“Camp is like its own world that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I’ve learnt that I’m a different person there than at home. All my silliness comes out – a funny pair of glasses, picking up my famous shoe phone – I go right into kid mode.”

Whether it’s performing the “inhaler dance” to help kids learn how to take their inhaler properly, or borrowing a scooter and getting involved with the wheelchair 500 race dressed as a boy’s “Nana Karen”, Judy is simply up for anything when it comes to having a blast at camp. 

This year, Nurse Judy came to camp with an extra special surprise for the campers – a shaved head with a featured cut out reading “CQ”. 

“The kids absolutely loved the new haircut. I even made the first day booklet! Well, at least the back of my head did.”

But like everything surrounding Camp Quality, every moment seems to naturally instigate a pretty incredible ripple effect. Judy explains, “The barber in Nelson who cut my hair wouldn’t let me pay for it in the end. It turns out he had cancer when he was 23, and would do anything to help out Camp Quality. I sent him a photo later of me with all the kids, and he was just amazed.”

A treasure box of good memories

One of the amazing parts of Judy’s story is realising just how long she’s known many of the campers. She’s seen them from as early as 2 or 3 years old, treating them at their worst moments in hospital, then seen them blossom as campers, and eventually give back as companions. 

“The kids are just so wonderful. I remember all their names,” Judy says.

One little girl, who Judy nursed from age three, had desperately wanted to go to camp, but her parents weren’t comfortable with it. A few years later, the girl spotted Judy from across the dining room, a spark of joy and recognition bursting on everyone’s face. 

There have been so many moments. Campers excited to see their old nurse in a new place, parents giving a sigh of relief that a familiar face would be at camp, letters and thank you cards and video calls with past campers. 

Judy reflects, “Camp Quality and my time with the campers is something that will stay in my heart forever. It has been magical, the most amazing time I’ve had. That little boy who called me ‘Nana Karen’ and then I dressed up for him – I think we made his camp! We saw him jump into water, a huge milestone. We saw him come out of his shell. Those moments are so incredible to me. It’s been a privilege to spend time this way and be a part of so many kids’ journeys.”

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