Making a difference in the lives of children and their families touched by cancer, Camp Kesem hosts several events each year for children whose parents have been stricken by illness.
Camp Kesem’s mission is to create an opportunity for kids between the ages of 5 to 16 to connect with one another. The camp was originally founded by Stanford in 2000, and began at Fresno State in 2014.
Kristine Nachand, a cancer survivor and a mom of three, said her children have attended the camp before and plan to go again this in Santa Cruz.
“They make a reference to Camp Kesem at least once a day,” Nachand said. “What’s special about this camp is that there is a wide range of kids who go through the event together.”
There are 14 Fresno State students who raise money year-round to keep the camps free of cost. Fresno State’s Camp Kesem goal this year is to fundraise $35,000. So far, they have raised nearly $20,000.
Nikki Wheeler, a student counselor for Camp Kesem, said this camp is one of a kind.
“One evening, we do have an empowerment ceremony,” Wheeler said. “That’s where the kids have the time to share their stories about how cancer has affected them and their family and their everyday lives.”
Nachand said that for 15 months she went through about 60 treatments of radiation and chemotherapy. During those months, her family had to take extra responsibilities during her absence.
“They gave up things for me,” Nachand said. “My oldest, my daughter acted [like] the mom.”
Nachand said when the boys needed something, her oldest would report back to her and fill her in.
“Because of treatments, I wasn’t aware of certain things,” Nachand said. “They grew up a lot in that time.”
Namit Dhesi, one of two directors for Fresno State’s Camp Kesem, said although they put in a lot of hours, she believes it is all worth it.
“We do a lot of planning,” Dhesi said. “But when we finally get to see the kids, it’s all worth it.”
Dhesi said the best counselors the kids had at camp were ultimately each other.
“Kids are a better support system to each other than the counselors are,” Dhesi said. “You see this 10-year-old comforting a counselor who is crying.”
Dhesi said to be student counselors, they have to go through 20 hours of training and get certified.
“I couldn’t have asked for more,” Nachand said. “The counselors are caring, sincere and genuine.”
Dhesi said this camp has touched a lot of people, and she believes kids should be focused on as well.
“Most people focus on the patient and not the kids,” Dhesi said.
The camp isn’t just for the kids; the camp is for the families as well, because it gave Nachand’s kids a place to get their minds on something other than her cancer and was a place where her kids could just be kids, she said.
“They were able to go to camp without having to take care of me,” Nachand said. “It was really a gift to the whole family.”
Nachand said one of the hardest things was losing her hair, not because she cared about her appearance, but because she could no longer go to the grocery store or pick up her kids from school without people knowing what was going on.
“Chunks of my hair would fall out,” Nachand said, “The day we had to shave my head it took a couple of hours.”
After her head was shaved, the whole family showered, got dressed and went out to dinner, Nachand said.
“This was after we cried, laughed and then cried some more,” Nachand said. “I didn’t want to stay in.”
Nachand said although treatments were hard, her family stayed strong.
“Out of necessity, they suck together,” Nachand said. “Those things brought us closer together.”