After our 12th summer at the Ranch, I still come home to New York in the fall with a feeling of melancholy. No matter how many years we do this, the experience of caring for all of these children every summer becomes more enriching and exciting each time we're there. I return to New York hoping and praying that they're all going to be OK and that by pursuing things that didn't seem possible they fulfill their dreams.
And the reason I become a little bit somber? Since all the kids become part of our family - every time we leave the Ranch I experience genuine "empty nest syndrome" and miss each and every one. I can only have faith that, as a result of what they've learned at the Ranch, they'll all be going back to their homes better equipped to improve the environments they're living in...and to heal.
Every summer we host around 100 kids at the Ranch and they all live in the house with Don, Wyatt and me. We really do become their surrogate parents, waking them at 5_30 every morning and putting them to bed every night. Many even call me "Mom!" We learn about who they are, what they're dealing with, and figure out their individual strengths and weaknesses. Every one of them is different and every one of them is special. But the unique paradigm of the Ranch is that every one of them is treated just like any other kid. And that'swhat makes their Ranch experience wonderful and ultimately changes their lives. Simply stated, the fundamental philosophy of the Ranch is that kids with cancer can do anything any other kids can do.
People who are diagnosed with cancer, and especially children, can quickly lose self-esteem and dignity because society has decided that their condition won't allow them to do certain things - and has told them so. Our objective at the Ranch is to eliminate that notion and replace it with a realization of just how much these youngsters can do - restoring pride and dignity through achievement and responsibility.
For example, each child is assigned a horse that must be fed, groomed, saddled, ridden and then, finally, becomes their partner in our rodeo competition that caps off the kids' Ranch experience. Caring for a horse is a huge responsibility and it is solely the kids'. They've got to get it right, and they do.
They also find themselves suddenly immersed in an environmentally pristine place; served a whole food, vegetarian, organic diet that, while delicious, is most often foreign to them because they've only been exposed to the "processed" foods - hotdogs, burgers, fries, sodas and so forth - that cannot possibly help them heal. In fact, quite the opposite. The routine at the Ranch, on the other hand, is exactlywhat's required for them to improve their prognosis as much as possible and get better. What we've done is institute the type of environment that research shows may actually help preventsome cancers in the first place. The kids know this is what they should be doing; they feel better doing it and gain enormous respect for themselves learning how to treat their bodies responsibly. Those are the elements that make up the foundation of the Ranch - environmental responsibility and the cowboy work ethic leading to improved health and self worth.
These kids just need people to start treating them like everyone else. That's when they can feel empowered to take control of their lives...and truly begin to heal.
Deirdre Imus is the Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology (r) at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Deirdre is the author of four books, including three national bestsellers. She is a frequent speaker on green living and children's health issues, and is a contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com. For more information go to www.dienviro.com