In 2017, there will be an estimated 1.6 million new cases of cancer, according to American Cancer Society.
Colorado State University is one of 13 colleges in a national voting campaign to create a Camp Kesem chapter, a camp for children who have or had a parent with cancer.
Junior ecosystem studies major Sarah Wipple and freshman business major Katherine Brown have teamed up to start a Camp Kesem chapter at CSU.
Camp Kesem is a national organization which provides a week long summer camp experience, free of charge, for kids who have or had a parent with cancer. There are over 80 chapters at college campuses across the country that hold a camp each summer. The first camp was held in 2000 with the Standford University chapter.
This past year, over 6,000 kids participated in camps thanks to the help of over 3,000 college volunteers.
For both Whipple and Brown, their desires to bring Camp Kesem to CSU stem from personal experiences.
When Whipple was in first grade, her mom was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and was given a seven percent chance of survival.
Whipple remembered her parents being gone a lot and having her grandparents from Sweden come to help. During this time Whipple said she felt alone.
“I felt really alone because I couldn’t really relate to anyone at my school,“ Whipple said.
Soon after, one of her best friend’s father was diagnosed with brain cancer, which gave Whipple the opportunity to connect with someone going through a similar situation.
Whipple said she found out about the camp later in college from a roommate and decided to get involved.
“So when I heard about Kesem, it brought back all those memories of having that bond with my best friend at that time, and how I wished there more students that I could have connected with,” Whipple said.
For Brown, it was during freshman year in high school when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She said she had to grow up fast in order to take care of her mother.
“I felt like suddenly I wasn’t a kid anymore, even though I was still too young to understand everything that was happening,” Brown said.
Brown’s parents enrolled her in Camp Kesem through the University of Wisconsin Madison chapter. Brown went to the camp for five summers. She said it had a profound effect on her.
“You can’t control a lot of things when a parent has cancer, but being surrounded by people who understand is comforting and makes the experience a lot more bearable,” Brown said. “I wanted to work with Sarah so I could provide that experience to other kids.”
The process for applying to become a Camp Kesem university chapter started in October with an extensive application submission. The application required a letter of support from the university, as well as lists of students and staff who would be willing to pledge time and interest to the cause. Students also had to identify possible locations to hold the camp.
The Camp Kesem organization initially received applications from 40 different universities, which has been reduced to 14 possible candidates, including CSU. From Jan. 30 to Feb. 3, people can visit the Camp Kesem website to help determine which universities will be the next campus chapter. It is expected that the top nine universities receiving the most votes will become campus chapters.
The University of Colorado Boulder became a chapter in 2013 and has seen an overwhelming interest in the camp. They have been receiving so many applicants that they have been forced to turn away campers, according to Steve Burns, advisory board member for CU’s Camp Kesem chapter.
“The need for the camp in Colorado is huge,” Burns said. “There is always a waiting list. There are so many families that are under-served and could benefit from Camp Kesem.”
For Brown and Whipple, both of their mothers have been in remission for two and 13 years respectively.
Brown said bringing a camp Kesem chapter to CSU would allow students to help the silent victims of cancer.
“Often times kids whose parents have or had cancer are the silent victims because they are not the ones who are sick, but they have to be a part of everything that happens,” Brown said.
If offered a chapter, CSU would hold their first camp in the summer of 2018 and be able to offer spots for 20 kids. They would then be able to grow their program each year offering more spots to kids in need.
Collegian reporter Nicole Towne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nicole_towne21.