Tag Archives: Camp Kesem MIT

For Pete’s sake


Pete and his proud Mama

My son Peter has always been one of those rare individuals who is completely self motivated when it comes to school/education. I like to think that parental influence came into play (like the day we bought forty children’s books at Salvation Army for ten cents a piece and then sat down and read them all at once). However, as the mother of three I am only too aware that when it comes to personality and character, they are who they are, and no amount of parental influence is going to change that.

When it came to schooling, circumstance dictated that Peter moved around a lot, with two years here and two years there. Several of his schools had a real hippy vibe (one of them was on an ashram). One blissful year we homeschooled and spent a whole lot of time at the beach, in the woods and at our second home in Marfa, Texas. Undoubtedly he gained something wonderful from each of these schooling experiences (and became quite skilled at making new friends). But midway through the eighth grade it became clear to me that Peter needed something more. We were living in Meredith NH at the time and David (my ex husband) was working from home so we had some flexibility.

My research turned up a charter school in Nashua NH called The Academy for Science and Design which sounded like a great fit. In order to gain admittance a prospective student had to pass some rather rigorous exams. Peter crossed that hurtle and I started house hunting in earnest. After I found a lovely home in an adjacent town I prepared my arguments: better school which was tuition free, lower mortgage on a beautiful home significantly closer to MGH and two major airports. David and Peter were in and we took the leap.

The Academy of Science and Design proved to be a good academic environment for Peter as he tackled a curriculum heavy on math and science. At the same time, things weren’t going so well with our marriage and my health. It occurred to me that perhaps our son needed a village and I began to look into boarding schools. Much to my surprise, many of these institutions had hefty endowments and offered ample financial aid, making such a move potentially doable.

My criteria was that the school be no more than two hours away, so that we could visit often. Peter (reluctantly, poor kid was tired of changing schools at this point) and I began to tour and interview. Just as I started chemotherapy, we began the application process. I would lay wrapped in blankets on the couch as Peter would compose his essays. Somehow, someway, the two of us (David was totally hands off on this process) got through it. And again, somehow, someway, Peter was accepted to what some consider to be one of the best prep schools in the world, Phillips Exeter Academy. And he was offered a substantial financial aid package.

At that point, David jumped on the bandwagon. Peter surprised me by deciding that he would repeat a year (something that is not uncommon when you switch to a prep school). He began the first of what would be three years at Phillips Exeter.

Now a senior, we have once again gone through the application process, but this time for college and with a good deal more assistance (my dear friend Melinda and the fabulous college counselors at PEA). Last week Peter learned that he had been accepted to MIT, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To say this is an accomplishment–yes, I am tooting my son’s horn–is a gigantic understatement. His father and I are thrilled beyond belief for oh so many reasons. First, because Peter has wanted to attend MIT ever since he was a small boy. His participation in Camp Kesem (staffed by MIT students) only increased that desire, as did his internship last summer at the KOCH Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Secondly, it opens up a whole world of possibilities as he embarks on his college career. Thirdly, he will still be close to home. I can’t tell who how much that means to me, his father and his sister Jemesii. Here’s to you, kid. Mama couldn’t be any prouder.

Thoughts of summer: Camp Kesem

Last August our son Peter attended camp for the very first time. He experienced many of the time honored rituals of a traditional summer camp: swimming, canoeing, backpacking, songs and stories around the campfire, and (for a more modern twist) a ropes course. The campers ranged in age from 6 to 16, but they all had something in common; a parent who’d been diagnosed with cancer.

The idea for Camp Kesem was developed in 2000 by four students from Stanford University who wanted to do something positive for children with cancer. They soon realized that although there were several organizations that addressed the needs of children fighting the disease themselves, an important group of children had been overlooked; those whose lives had been impacted by a parent’s diagnosis of cancer. And so Camp Kesem (Kesem means magic in Hebrew) was created, and two missions were defined:

“To provide children whose parent has or had cancer with a free summer camp experience that gives them a chance to be kids.”

“To allow college students to channel their passion for making a difference while developing critical leadership skills for long-term social impact.”

Word of the well received first camp in 2001 spread quickly, demand among campers grew, and students at other universities became interested in starting their own chapters. In 2011, Camp Kesem was nominated and chosen as a recipient of LIVESTRONG’s Community Impact Project. The monies from this award provided support for additional staffing and seed money for 12 new campuses. In 2012, 14 new campus chapters have been added for a total of 37 camps in 22 states. For a complete list of regional Camp Kesems as well as information regarding applications, click here.

Peter was seven when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, and fourteen when he attended  MIT Camp Kesem last summer. While at camp Peter received, for the first time, validation from his peers that when a parent has cancer, your own life is turned upside down as well. I asked Peter to put into his own words the Camp Kesem experience:

“Part of what makes Camp Kesem so amazing is how relaxed the atmosphere stays. We all know why we are here, and the unspoken sadness that is always there lingers, but we don’t have to talk about it. We can, but we do not have to. It is kinda just beneath the surface. Now, that sounds pretty grim, but we are so distracted and having so much fun, that all that is left is the knowledge that we all share this same little thought. Even if we aren’t necessarily talking about it, we all can and do. This means that the feeling of togetherness is magnified, until it seems like we have everything in common. We are all together, and we are all okay.”

The reach of Camp Kesem is limited only by funding. Most campers return the next summer, and the college age counselors work hard to establish and maintain relationships with individual campers that are not limited to the week of camp. I couldn’t be more impressed by this organization and have joined the National Parent Committee. Our goal is to spread the word and help make this opportunity available to even more children. So that they, like Peter, can know the solidarity that comes with sharing a common hurt:

“We are all together, and we are all okay.”