For Jake Zalkalnins, a 10 year old from west Auckland, six days at YMCA’s Camp Adair this past school holidays was an unforgettable experience that involved nothing more than the simple joy of being a kid.

For four years Jake has been firmly by his mother Angela’s side as she faced numerous health challenges. In 2015 Angela was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. The diagnosis was yet another blow for the mother of two boys who in 2013 underwent a spinal fusion to cure a bad back.

The surgery failed and in August 2015 Angela was rescheduled for a second back operation, but things didn’t quite go to plan: “During the preoperative bloodwork the doctors detected some abnormalities and I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.”

For the first month after the diagnosis, Angela’s susceptibility to infection meant Jake and his 14 year old brother Zach were unable to see much of their mother. What followed was six months in and out of hospital and very little time together as a family. Christmas day was reduced to a visit to the hospital for family breakfast.

The entire experience, says Angela, has been particularly hard on Jake who has been by her side throughout.

“Jake has been through so many ups and downs over the last four years,” says Angela.

“All throughout he has always had a smile and a huge hug for me, and he tells me many times a day how much he loves me.”

Angela’s leukaemia is now in remission, and in September she is scheduled for a second spinal fusion surgery to correct the first. Foremost on her mind, though, has been giving back to Jake.

In June she entered a Facebook competition that asked entrants to nominate a child they think deserved six days at a YMCA school holiday camp. Angela jumped at the opportunity to nominate Jake: “I wanted a way to say thanks to Jake for being there, and I wanted him to be a kid,” Angela says.

Being a kid was exactly what Jake got to experience at Camp Adair: a high ropes course, mud slide, and archery activities made certain it was a week of fun in the outdoors.

Attending the camp was also a full-circle experience for the Zalkalnins family – Jake’s father Aron and two of his uncles stayed at Camp Adair as children.  Angela says Aron is very fond of the camp was excited to hear Jake would have the same experience he had as a kid.

For Jake, walking the same grounds his father and uncles had nearly 35 years ago, Camp Adair seems to have been just as memorable, and he has plenty to say about the experience: “The people were so kind and caring, and the activities were exciting. My favourite activity was the high swing. Camp Adair was amazing!”