Camp Kesem: Supporting Children Through and Beyond a Parent's Cancer

In October 2018, my nurse navigator mentioned a program to me called Camp Kesem. It's a FREE week-long summer camp offered to children, ages 6 - 18, whose lives have been affected by a parent or caregiver’s cancer diagnosis. 

"What's the catch?" I thought to myself…I had to talk to someone to see what this program was about. 

At the time there was one big camp offered in the Houston area, Camp Kesem Rice, so I emailed one of the volunteers, mentioning I had some questions about the program. I spoke to one of the coordinators who patiently answered all my questions through a series of phone calls. 

He informed me that all the counselors that are involved in the program are college students who volunteer their time - not only do they go through extensive background checks, they also attend hours of counselor training and are responsible for fundraising money for all the campers that attend. There is also a nurse and a mental health professional who attend as well. 

“And yes," he stated, "the camp is completely free." I couldn't believe it!

I had two major concerns:

1. How do I trust this situation will be safe for my babies, and

2. Is this "cancer" camp? 

Once I spoke with the coordinator, I felt confident that my kids would be in good hands, that all necessary routes had been followed to make sure they would be in a secure situation. 

But I still had my other issue to address - throughout my treatment, I was very careful about the information I gave my children regarding my diagnosis. 

Most information I read said to be very blunt when dealing with kids and cancer, but I didn't feel comfortable with that. I wondered if my kids attended Camp Kesem, would they be exposed to things I felt they weren't ready for?

The coordinator informed me that a new chapter of Camp Kesem was opening up through the University of Houston. I felt a little spark inside because this was an area of town near us that I felt very comfortable in. Also, it would be their inaugural camp, they were accepting only 20 campers, so it would be a much smaller camp than the one offered through Rice University, which was about 200 campers. I decided then and there I'd sign up my children, attend an informational meeting to have my concerns addressed, and go from there.

Six months later (and one week home from camp), I can absolutely say that Camp Kesem was one of the best things that has ever happened to my children! 

This was NOT "cancer" camp. 

Photo credit: Harish Ganesh, Camp Kesem UH Counselor

Photo credit: Harish Ganesh, Camp Kesem UH Counselor

This was a summer camp where kids go to leave their worries at home while they swim, hike, make friends and have fun. 

And the counselors! 

These are some amazing college students who dedicate their time and are extremely engaging and enthusiastic about working with children.

They brought out the best in mine. 

If this is something you might be interested in, find your local chapter and attend their Friends and Family Day. 

We did just that! 

There was a panel discussion for parents, with people from the advisory board and a parent and child that attended a previous camp. I felt all my questions and concerns were answered. We also met all the counselors, ate lunch, and got to know the other campers through games and a scavenger hunt.

I felt very confident in my decision of letting my children participate! This was an absolutely wonderful, life changing event, for all of us!

There are so many free programs offered to cancer patients and their families, but unless you're receiving treatment at a large hospital or able to attend conferences, you might not ever find out about everything that's out there. 

Too often there ends up being a racial disparity which creates a cycle - we don't see other Hispanics, African Americans, or any other people of color involved, so we don't participate. 

We end up losing out on programs because there aren't enough of us willing to be the first and break that barrier. 

My advice would be to join support groups, search the internet, and check in with www.thebreastofus to see what services and programs are offered for people dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

Then share that information with the community so that we are represented!

Miranda Gonzales.jpg

Meet the Breast Cancer Baddie

Miranda Gonzales is a resourceful DIYer, 43-year-old stay-at-home mom of five, and wife of 18 years to her best friend. Miranda is a regular blog contributor at “For the Breast of Us” and resides in the Houston, TX area.