Camp Kesem 'magical' for kids whose parents have cancer

NOW: Camp Kesem ’magical’ for kids whose parents have cancer


WOLCOTTVILLE, Ind. -- For more than a decade, Notre Dame has been bringing a little magic to kids whose parents have cancer at Camp Kesem. 

The nationwide organization was started at Stanford in 2000, and has since expanded to more than 100 chapters in 40 states across the country.

Notre Dame founded its chapter in 2003.

“There’s kind of just like magic. Kesem means magic," said Morgan "Honey Badger" Zickes, a veteran camper.

“It gives us a chance to be ourselves, we can be whoever we want to be, and that’s especially the place with camp names. We have aliases we go by, and it gives us a way to be this character and get away from our old lives, because many people have troubles that they don’t want to bring up, and it lets us just let go and have fun," said Takoda "Ferb" Stone, who's been coming to the camp for years.

“Kesem is just a place where even though we all have nicknames, Nobody’s pretending. Everybody is like authentically themselves. Even though we might call ourselves something different, we’re all ourselves and everybody accepts you whether you’re being goofy and singing those camp songs or you’re having those really tough conversations about a family member’s illness," said unit and cabin leader as well as Notre Dame graduate, Kathleen "QB" Davin.

Takoda's dad was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer four years ago in December, and he passed away in September 2017.

Morgan's dad passed away only a couple months after she and her brothers first attended Camp Kesem.

“Kesem’s just there for you on your best days and your worst and it accepts all of it, and I’ve never been at a place where I feel so completely comfortable just being who I am with other people who are doing exactly the same thing," said Kathleen.

“What we do for them is we empower them. We convince them that they’re strong and that they're going to get through this, and we do that by being their friends," said camp counselor, Sean "Simba" Howley.

“The openness of it is just amazing. You feel like you’ve known these people for your entire lives, and you only spend one week with them," said Takoda.

“A lot of time, kids whose parents have been affected by cancer might have to grow up pretty fast. They’ve got a lot to deal with, and this is a camp for them to just be kids. That’s what we always say," said Camp Kesem Co-Director, Monica "Olaf" Fallon.

Takoda says the Kesem experience is incomparable.

“You get to meet people that you would never have outside and have an experience that you would never have anywhere else. It’s truly a magical place," he said.

To learn more about the camp, click here.

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