A summer camp for kids who have a parent with cancer

Clockwise from above: Mealtime for campers and counselors at Camp Kesem in Center Tuftonburo, N.H., operated by a group of MIT students who not only volunteer and run the camp; Daniel Longtin, 16, is in his fourth year at Kesem; arts and crafts at the camp; Luciana Libis, 9 enjoys a swim; Rosa Carmichael, 13, adds some glitter to her project; masks made at the arts table; Emily Lawler, 18, on a canoe trip with fellow campers.
At Camp Kesem in Center Tuftonburo, N.H., operated by a group of MIT students who not only volunteer but run the camp, Emily Lawler, 18, took a canoe trip.

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CENTER TUFTONBURO, N. H. — The profiles on the children at Camp Kesem read like the notes that counselors at any camp might make on their young charges: “Fun and caring.” “Allergic to steroid-based meds.” “Happy, self-reliant.” “Upset by bullies.”

But interspersed with such comments are others, stark reminders of why these kids are spending a week in the idyllic Ossipee Mountains: “Father has stage 4 colon cancer,” “Mother’s cancer is spreading to both lungs,” “Mother is doing well from several cancers,” “Father left the state shortly after mother started chemo.”

Each summer for a week in August, Camp Kesem — it means “magic” in Hebrew — opens its doors to children ages 6 to 18 who have a parent who is battling cancer, has died from it, or is in remission. It is operated by a group of MIT students who do it all, from raising money so that the sleepover camp is free, to running the program itself.

Camp Kesem’s philosophy is similar to that of any other summer camp: Kids want to have fun. But these kids, more than most, need to have fun, away from the constant reminders of the cancer that has taken up residence in their homes: a parent’s hair or weight loss, the medical appointments, the children’s own fears and added responsibilities.

Most of the campers, particularly the older ones, know too much about cancer, and can cite various medications, doses, and side effects.

“My mom has a stage 3½ brain tumor,” says Rosa Carmichael (“Meerkat”), 13, from Long Island. “I just don’t talk about it at school, but you can here because people know what you’re talking about. We’re all kind of in the same situation.”

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