PLME students help kids find mutual support, friendships, and fun through summer adventure.
Mindy Ng ’19 was 7 years old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It wasn’t something I really talked about,” she says. When Ng heard about a summer camp for kids whose parents had cancer, she first thought the efforts were misdirected. Why did the kids need help? she wondered. They didn’t have cancer.
But at age 13, Ng attended that camp, Camp Kesem, at Stanford University. “It was one of those things that changed my life,” she says. Now Ng is part of a team, headed by Catherine Ganage ’17 MD’21 and Joyce Kim ’17, working to bring Camp Kesem to Rhode Island. About half of the board members are students in Brown’s Program for Liberal Medical Education (PLME), including Gannage, who hopes to become a pediatric oncologist after earning her MD at Alpert Medical School.
Camp Kesem is a national organization that was started at Stanford in 2000. Since then, it’s grown immensely, serving more than 5,000 kids last year at 73 chapters across the US. Each chapter is completely run by undergraduate students and is affiliated with a college or university. Camp Kesem at Brown University will be the first and only chapter in Rhode Island.
Gannage and Ng attended Stanford’s Camp Kesem for seven consecutive summers. “It seemed silly initially,” Gannage says. “My first thought was, ‘Why are you bringing all these sad kids together?’ But there’s no way to explain how much it helps unless you experience how much it hurts to have a parent who has cancer and is going through treatment.”
Camp Kesem will run August 21-26, and can accept up to 40 campers. The camp is free of charge for all participants. Gannage and Kim are heading an ambitious fundraising effort to make this happen, seeking support from national and local grants and charitable donations.
The chapter has reached out to local professionals to help them recruit kids who would benefit from attending the camp, including Fred Schiffman, MD, Sigal Family Professor of Humanistic Medicine and professor of medicine, an oncologist at The Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital. The chapter also distributes fliers to local hospitals and posts on community Facebook groups and online support groups.
Participants will stay overnight on the grounds of Camp Fuller in Wakefield, RI. Much of the programming is what Gannage calls “the typical camp experience”: arts and crafts, sports, nature, science; highlights include “the Messy Olympics” and “Gaga Ball.” Camp is themed each year, but this year’s theme is still a secret so that campers will be surprised on day one.
Campers often come back every summer, Gannage says, and throughout the year chapters reinforce the peer support with reunions for campers and families. “You get to see people outside of the camp setting, which is really just as important as going to camp and seeing them there,” she says.
“When I was first introduced to Camp Kesem, I didn’t understand why kids who had a parent who had cancer were getting help,” Ng says. “When my mom passed away, I didn’t tell anyone from camp, but when I got up to speak at her memorial service I saw an entire row of counselors and campers there to support me. This really showed me how strong and everlasting the Kesem community is. I knew it was something I could never let go.”