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This summer camp brings hope to kids whose parents are affected by cancer

CAMP KESEM
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A truly worthy place to comfort and support these vulnerable children.

When a loved one gets a cancer diagnosis, we are consumed with trying to care for and support them. But in families where the parents have cancer, kids not only worry about losing their mom or dad, but often have to care for them, too.

Luckily there’s a little respite for children whose parents have had cancer or are going through treatment, or for those who may have lost their mom or dad. In 2000, Camp Kesem was founded by a college student, offering all the usual sorts of activities of a normal summer camp but with something a little extra: cabin chats at night that give the kids an opportunity to share what’s on their mind. Being surrounded by others who can appreciate the emotions of coping with parental cancer offers much-needed support to these kids.

The camp is free due to charitable donations — a true godsend to parents who are often stretched financially due to loss of work and costly medical expenses. In 2018, more than 9,000 children were able to benefit from one of Camp Kesem’s 116 chapters. While this is an impressive number, there are actually approximately 3.5 million children in the U.S. who’ve been affected by early-stage cancer in their parents, or whose parents have survived cancer, according to NCBI — and that’s not including kids who’ve gone through the trauma of losing their parents to cancer. That’s a lot of youngsters in need of a compassionate ear.

The results of the camp are impressive. Children are able to participate until they reach 18 and are then get given the opportunity to become counselors themselves, passing on much-needed wisdom and support to younger participants.

One counselor, Molly Murphy, lost her mother to cervical cancer when she was six years old, and her testament to her experience as a four-time counselor at the camp demonstrates its importance. Although she would have loved the opportunity to go to a similar camp when she was experiencing her mother’s cancer ordeal, she shares with Cancer Health: “After going to camp for three years, I can see that these kids get this new sense of confidence and a new sense of love and hope, even if their parents have passed away, even if their parents aren’t doing too well.”

Murphy, who is currently a student at Syracuse University, believes the nightly chats are paramount in helping the kids. This, coupled with the final empowerment ceremony, where the children answer the question Why am I at Kesem?, allows them to open-up in a very public manner. “When I first went to the empowerment ceremony, I was shocked at how resilient these kids are, and how vulnerable they were being, and how strong they were. It changed everything for me,” Murphy says.

 

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