April 25, 2013

Camp Kesem: Because Kids should be Kids

My Journey with Camp Kesem


Leah Bowman (aka BioShock)

Northwestern University

Kids face all kinds of challenges when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. There are countless questions and endless uncertainty. What will kids at school think when my mom picks me up from school in a headscarf? Will we still be able to take a family vacation with the expensive treatments? How can my friends understand what losing a parent is like?

There are important resources that can help a family cope, but there is one that does it in a completely unique and special way: Camp Kesem. We serve children affected by a parent’s cancer not by being therapists, but by providing a safe, caring, and FUN environment away from cancer!

It takes over 50 engaged student leaders at Northwestern University to create this community for 100 campers each year, and we undergo extra training to accommodate the unique needs of our kids. Camp is also free for the families, so part of our responsibility as counselors is also to fundraise and plan for the actual expenses of camp.

When I was encouraged to apply to be a Camp Kesem counselor my freshman year of college, it was impeccable timing. I am a long-time camp counselor, and my own mother battled thyroid cancer when I was young. The summer before my freshman year of college, my mom underwent exploratory surgery to ensure her cancer had not returned. It was nerve-racking; I felt like a helpless kid again, unable to help or cure the mother who had helped and cared for me. Thankfully, she was given a clean bill of health. I thought, what better way to give thanks for my own cancer-free mother than by getting involved in Camp Kesem? Not caring whether it was a sign, a door, a message from the universe, or just a coincidence, I just dove in. Little did I know my cabin of 13-year-old girls and the other campers in my cabin would change me. The kids at camp are resilient, upbeat, and amazing and the entire week of camp has a tangible feel of solidarity. It is not only a safe place for kids to relate to others who have gone through similar experiences, it is a place for kids to just be kids. Everyone even goes by a special camp nickname (mine is Bioshock, and campers name themselves after everything from Pokémon to candy bars!)

Although I am involved in Northwestern’s chapter and we serve predominantly Chicagoland-area children, there are 40 other university Camp Kesem chapters across the nation. Together, we have created magic for over 6,300 children and engaged more than 3,800 student leaders.

I would encourage everyone to find the nearest chapter and not be afraid to share the resource with friends and families. Camp Kesem is the closest thing to magic we have (until we find a cure!)

Learn more about us at our website and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

You can also contact Leah via email: Leahbowman2015@u.northwestern.edu

Also, please take a second to support Camp Kesem NU by voting for them at www.nshimpact.com/campkesem.html. Your vote could help them win $1000!


BioShock w/ a camper

BioShock w/ a camper

So, Camp Kesem counselors: what is your favorite part of camp or what is your most treasured memory of your camp experience? Please leave your response in the comment section below.


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