Sometimes the toughest role isn't being the patient; it's being
the young child of the patient who has cancer.
With 1.7 million cancer cases every year in the U.S., there are
more than 3 million kids affected by a parent's cancer. And
because these kids are not the ones who are sick, going through
treatment and struggling with the side effects of the meds, their
needs can sometimes take a back seat and they wind up suffering
quietly; sometimes leading to social and emotional problems.
Since 2000, Camp Kesem has given children affected by a parent's
cancer the opportunity to just be kids again and not be defined by
their parent's illness. Camp Kesem provides kids, ages 6-16,
with a safe, compassionate and cancer-aware weeklong, sleep-away
camp program that allows them to have regular camp activities such
as sports, arts and crafts, drama and, of course, color war.
In addition to traditional camp activities, kids participate
in "Cabin Chats" with counselors and fellow campers sharing their
experiences and personal journeys. While not clinical
therapy, often times just the extra attention and support from a
compassionate peer group is just what these kids need most.
When Barb Simmonds was 3, she lost her mom to cancer. From that
day forward, her family never talked about her mom. There were no
pictures around, and the kids were never encouraged to discuss what
had happened so Barb had very few memories of her mom. Years
later, Barb married and had three children. Then, tragedy struck
again. Barb's husband was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and
died two weeks later, on the first birthday of their youngest
daughter, Rachel. Barb was determined to keep the memory of her
children's dad alive. She vowed to talk about him a lot, and to
share pictures and stories, so that her kids would never forget.
She also became involved with the LIVESTRONG Foundation, where she
first heard about Camp Kesem. Barb knew it would be the
perfect place for Rachel, who was struggling with her father's
Rachel's first response to hearing about Camp Kesem was: "I
can't wait to meet other kids like me!" "She had no qualms about
going off on her own to camp, even as one of the youngest campers.
And she came back much more confident, free-spirited, and able to
talk more openly about losing her dad," Barb says. "She loved the
mayhem, the competitiveness, and the sheer fun of Color Wars
Barb wishes Camp Kesem had been around when she was a child.
Started by four Stanford University College students in 2000,
Camp Kesem hosted 37 campers at its first one-week summer camp in
2001. Word quickly spread and the Stanford leaders encouraged
their friends at colleges across the country to replicate Camp
Kesem in their communities. This year, Camp Kesem will have
54 chapters around the U.S. Not only is Camp Kesem helping children
affected by cancer, but they're simultaneously developing and
empowering a generation of student leaders by training college
students to become camp counselors and make a meaningful difference
in the lives of these children.
Kesem means "magic" in Hebrew and that's exactly what this camp
brings to families coping with cancer. Amy and Mark were
divorced and Amy was living in South Bend when Mark received his
dual cancer diagnosis (two primary cancers, liver and pancreatic)
in February 2010. Though apart, they shared everything that
was Ian, their sports-loving, four-wheeling, straight-A student
son. When Mark died a year later, Ian's questions were so hard for
Amy to answer: "Why my dad?" "Why would God take a good dad?" "It's
not fair my dad is gone." "I miss him so much." "It hurts so
Amy heard about Camp Kesem through a friend. Ian needed magic,
so Amy signed him up. In the car, on the way to Camp Kesem Notre
Dame, Amy remembers the awkwardness of their silence. "Ian's
biggest fear was that he was going to cry," Amy says. "When he told
me that, of course, I started crying. 'It's OK if you cry ... look,
I'm crying already,'" she told him. Amy explained that Camp
Kesem was going to be a place that he could feel safe to cry and
feel OK to laugh. She knew the camp was going to offer Ian a chance
to just be Ian, a 10-year-old who lost his dad to cancer just four
months before camp.
The respite was what exactly what Amy needed as well.
Just as Amy heard about the program from a friend, Camp Kesem
relies on word of mouth from participants and supporters to spread
the word about the experience that is fully funded for
cancer-stricken families. On Saturday, March 8, Camp Kesem
will be hold its Family Night at the Museum fundraising gala at the
Field Museum in Chicago from 6-9 p.m. For more information, please
check its website. The gala
is sold out this year, but start planning to attend next year.
Chrissy Jones is a local Chicago mom blogger with three children (12,7 & 4). Her blog Beyondthepark.com showcases the best special events, activities, restaurants and products for Chicago families.
See more of Chrissy's stories here.
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