How Camp Kesem Gave Me a Purpose

Recently, I had what I am calling a “future revelation.” We’ve all had versions of these. The ones where we finally realize which college we want to go to, what major we want, what internship we would like, etc. I’ve had various ‘revelations’ over the years, and I decided a career in social work was what I wanted, but never really knew what I wanted to do in the field. Well, now I do. It took me four years of college, over 40 classes in different subjects, 4 internships, and countless breakdowns to realize that my answer was sitting in front of me since the very beginning of my freshman year.

In September of my first year at the University of Michigan, I joined an organization called Camp Kesem. This is a nonprofit that offers a week of summer camp for kids affected by a parent’s cancer. Each chapter at the 80+ universities across the country runs one or two weeks of camp for this underserved population every summer, planned and led entirely by college students. I joined this organization my freshman year at Michigan, and I immediately fell in love. I was personally affected by this issue, with my mother going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments for Breast Cancer when I joined. My passion for this population and Camp Kesem’s mission only grew over the years. I served two years as a Development Coordinator, helping to raise a combined $240,000+ for our chapter. My senior year, I am honored to serve as one of the co-directors for the chapter, and my love for our families, campers and mission has continued to grow. I have had the amazing opportunity to grow so close to many of our campers and their families over the years.


I had four internships, probably seven different part-time jobs, three other student orgs, classes that I loved, and all the while, something just kept pulling me back to Kesem. No matter what was going on, this was what made me happy. Meetings with my fellow Coordinators and counselors inspired me. Speaking with the parents of my campers about how much they were going through reminded me that what we were doing was real and valuable and life-changing.

Last Friday, I was at an all-day training on Grief and Loss (sounds fun, yeah?). Eight hours in one single room with 50 people listening to one person talk about terminal illness, end of life care, and death. Despite the less-than-cheery topic, I think I am going to remember this day for the rest of my life. Throughout the day, I was thinking about Camp Kesem a lot – the woman training us was an oncology social worker at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. On our lunch break, I went up to her and started talking to her about Kesem, knowing that we are a well-known name around the Cancer Center. We chatted about camp for a few minutes, and I was in bliss (as I always am when talking about CK) and then it happened. I had an “A ha! Moment,” if you will. This is it. This is my future.

That afternoon I called cancer centers around the area asking about oncology social work. I called one of my best friends to run this new revelation by her. “Syd, this is perfect. I literally cannot see you doing anything else.” Because of Camp Kesem, working directly with the cancer patients and survivors, as well as their spouses, children, and loved ones, has made me sure that this population is one I hope to work with for the rest of my life. Through my involvement with Camp Kesem, my passion for working in the cancer community has grown more every day. After receiving my Masters of Social Work, I hope to obtain my Oncology Social Work certificate and continue to work with the cancer community in my future, being the voice of patients and families who often go unheard. I hope to work in the health field as an oncology social worker, specifically to work with the patients and their families through the tough journey that is a cancer diagnosis.

One day, I hope to not have this job. By that I mean that I hope there won’t be a need for this job. I hope that oncology will only mean being cured of a disease that we used to fear the name of, that we once referred to as “the C-word.” I hope that this is the change that I see in my lifetime. But until then, until there is a cure, there’s a better c-word – camp. And I could not be more thankful that that c-word is in my life.


If you would like to help me send kids affected by a parent’s cancer to camp this summer, please consider donating here. 80% of our fundraising goes directly to programming, and this summer we are hoping to send over 250 kids to camp! 


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