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Camp Kesem helps children cope when their parents have cancer



With 1.7 million cancer cases a year in the United States, there are more than 3 million children affected by a parent’s cancer diagnosis.

Camp Kesem recognizes these children and helps them cope with their situation. The camp provides week-long support that assists them academically, socially and emotionally.

“People don’t understand what these kids are going through,” University of Oregon student and co-director of Camp Kesem on campus, Haley Wilson said. “It’s hard to see the strongest figure in your family being weak.”

Wilson is no stranger to dealing with cancer patients and these emotional situations.

“I was seven when my brother passed away from Leukemia,” Wilson said.

Christine Webb, another of Camp Kesem’s co-directors, had a similar situation experiencing a family member with cancer. She had a younger sister who was diagnosed with cancer as a child.

“I needed to be around people who understand this,” Webb said. “We do a lot for the kids and they do a lot for us.”

Both Webb and Wilson found out about Camp Kesem through their Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sister, Dana Helm, who helped to bring the organization to the UO campus.

Counselors don’t need to have experience with cancer to be involved. Volunteers go through a seven week training program in the spring to learn more about how to handle emergency protocol and become educated on counselor etiquette.

Camp activities include access to an aesthetic rock wall, archery, pool, dance parties and crafts. Participants also have “cabin checks” which are a time for campers to talk about their experience with the other kids.

“It’s cool to see the transformation that the kids go through,” Wilson said. “There was one girl who was so shy she wouldn’t speak when she arrived, and by the end of the week she was dancing in the talent show.”

Students can get involved for a number of different reasons.

Brooke Freeman, the PR director for Camp Kesem, got involved to find out how to be a better friend after a close friend’s dad passed away from cancer.

Camp Kesem has 63 chapters and is led by college students. The camp is free to all kids with parents whom are affected by cancer. It is a five day overnight camp at Camp Collins, Oregon.

Children ages 6-16 are welcome to participate in the camp. The UO chapter is growing and has been around for three years.

Because the camp is free to all kids whose parents are affected by cancer, volunteers spend the whole year attempting to raise $50,000 so everyone who wants to attend the camp can. Fundraisers include a bone marrow drive and this year they will start a “Make the Magic” silent dinner auction. The time and date of this event is yet to be announced, but it is planned for April in Portland.

Follow Emma Scherzer on Twitter @emmascherzer


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Emma Scherzer

Emma Scherzer