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Camp Kesem

by Camp Kesem staff

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In February 2001, Sam and Matthew’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. For five years, he fought to live, and then he passed away when Sam was ten and Matthew was eight. Their mother says, “Living with and losing a parent to cancer is something no child should ever have to experience.”

Three years later, the boys’ mother discovered Camp Kesem. She didn’t know much about the camp, but knew that the boys needed to be with other kids who “got” what they were going through.

At first, Sam and Matthew were reluctant to join in. But within 30 minutes, they were laughing and playing with the other kids – reveling in the energy that the counselors created. When they saw their mother still standing nearby, one of them asked, “Why are you still here?” She says she “did the little happy dance and got in my car.”

On the surface, Camp Kesem looks like any overnight summer camp – days filled with skits, songs, sports, and tie-dying t-shirts. But the camp, a national nonprofit organization that provides free, week-long overnight camps for children who have a parent who’s been diagnosed with cancer, is anything but typical.

When children’s parents are diagnosed with cancer, their lives are turned upside-down. The complexity of emotions that they experience can easily go without attention, and it is often challenging to find peers they can relate to, resulting in feelings of isolation and fear. One camper’s parent says, “It helped normalize the situation [of dealing with her parent’s cancer] and showed her it’s okay for kids in this situation to laugh, have fun, be silly, and act like kids.”

On the surface, Camp Kesem looks like any overnight summer camp but the camp is anything but typical.

Founded in 2000, Camp Kesem has been growing and expanding across the country. In the summer of 2010, Camp Kesem operated in 23 locations.

Camp Kesem is a nonprofit organization that simultaneously serves families coping with cancer and develops a generation of leaders. All camp programs are planned, fundraised, and staffed by volunteer college students who, among many other benefits, gain essential business and leadership experience. Student volunteers are dedicated to providing high-quality programs, and they often leave Camp Kesem changed. One student says, “I consider CK to be the most important thing I’ve done in my life. It is one of the most life-changing organizations I have been a part of.”

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To learn more about Camp Kesem, or to find a camp, visit www.campkesem.org or call (925) 212-9044. See the magic of camp at www.youtube.com/campkesembyu.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2010.