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A special get-away for children of cancer patients

The leadership team at Camp Kesem at Stanford

How did you spend your free time as a college undergrad? I remember a lot of basketball, joking around with my buddies and homework procrastination. It was a good time, but I sure don’t recall making anyone’s life better.

I started reflecting on this after getting to know a group of Stanford students who dedicate a big chunk of their time - as much as 10 or 15 hours a week - to brightening the lives of local kids whose parents have cancer. These students are the volunteer organizers and managers of Camp Kesem at Stanford, a program that each June hosts children ages 6 to 16 for a free sleep-away camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Like summer camps everywhere, Camp Kesem has water balloon fights, friendship bracelets and poison oak, but what makes it special is its mission to offer a week of support and friendship to kids who really need it, kids whose families are coping with the struggle or loss brought on by cancer. What makes the camp run is the boundless energy and enthusiasm of its student counselors, who put their own concerns aside for a week and focus on being there - physically and emotionally - for the campers.

I wrote about the camp in a story appearing in the current issue of Inside Stanford Medicine.

“Camp Kesem is a lot of things: a camp, a retreat and an intervention,” Heather Paul, Camp Kesem at Stanford's director and only employee, told me. “Most of all, though, it’s a community lovingly shaped by a team of incredible students.”

For our local readers, a fundraiser is being held tomorrow night at Treehouse restaurant on the Stanford campus. Thirty percent of that evening's profits will go to support Camp Kesem.

Michael Claeys is the senior communications manager for the Stanford Cancer Institute.

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