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Why I Kesem–Freestyle: “For the Community”

Every now and then at Camp Kesem events, we get asked “Why do you Kesem?” We use this question in the CK community to ask more than just why someone shows up for an awesome week of camp every summer. “Why I Kesem” goes deeper than our not-so-secret addiction to silly camp songs and love of watching the Talent Show acts every summer. “Why I Kesem” is about the story that led us to this amazing organization, and what the counselors and campers have come to mean to us. This spring, we’re spotlighting our counselors and sharing their stories. This week, we feature Freestyle, a sophomore Pre-Med major from Winter Park, Florida. Her favorite Disney movie is Lilo and Stitch, so between that and her hometown, we’re sensing a theme that the deep freezer that is Northern Indiana this winter isn’t exactly her favorite. (Editor’s note: At time of posting, the air temperature at Notre Dame has thawed to a balmy 10 degrees….although it still feels like -7)

My Camp Kesem story began a few years before I became a counselor. For those of you who don’t know, my mom is pretty incredible. She is probably one of the most amazing, kindhearted people you will ever meet. When I was in high school, my mom was even referred to as the “cool mom,” an unheard of concept when you’re a teenager! My mom was the pillar of health and somehow made balancing two daughters and her job as a surgeon look easy.

As daughter of two physicians, I had known what cancer was for a while. I had seen one of my closest family friends lose her battle with leukemia my freshman year of high school, but I never experienced it in my own family. I could not have fathomed that my mom, the healthiest person I knew, would be diagnosed with cancer. Four years ago this coming summer, that nightmare came true when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, I was a rising junior and was looking forward to one of my last years at home. But when my mom was diagnosed, everything seemed to be put on hold. Suddenly, my strong, amazing mom was sick.

When my mom was diagnosed, I could have never imagined how greatly it would affect my life. It seems like when your parent is diagnosed with cancer, your whole family fights with them. I suddenly had to become the “adult” of the family. I could not do the normal things sixteen year olds did. Instead of going to the beach on the weekends, I spent my time at my sister’s club volleyball tournaments, making sure her needs were all taken care of. I was amazed that even in her weakened state, my mom made it to almost every single game my sister played. She was still the mom we had known, but there was still that looming fear of the unknown.

I am happy to say my mom is currently in remission. I’ll admit, during her battle I was scared, but I was afraid to let anyone know. I had people I could talk to, but no one could relate to my situation. My friends were great, but there’s something about talking to someone who knows exactly what you’re going through. When I heard of Camp Kesem, I knew this was where I belonged. Camp Kesem provides kids of cancer patients a place to be just kids, without the worries and stresses of cancer. During the Empowerment ceremony last year, I really understood why I Kesem. I saw what a community Camp Kesem really is and how supportive each camper and counselor is to each other. That community is what I wanted when I was in the campers’ shoes and I am overjoyed that I get to provide that for them.