In the fall of 2013, I came to the University of Michigan as a young, lost 17-year-old. I had moved across the country. I didn’t know a soul. I can honestly say that the student organizations I joined my freshman year kept me in school for four years and helped me make it to graduation.
The first week of the year, my roommate and I joined the Michigan Quidditch team. We traveled all over the Midwest that year playing in tournaments against other schools. I made some of my closest friends through this organization. I found my roommates - and best friends to this day - from this organization, and I owe so many of the experiences I’ve had to it.
A few weeks into my freshman year, I was walking through a student org fair on the center of my campus called Festifall. There were hundreds of booths lining our Diag (University of Michigan’s common area) in the middle of campus. There were so many options of clubs, teams, and groups I could join covering so many topics and interests – but there was one that really hit home for me.
Four months earlier, in May 2013, my mom was diagnosed with Stage II Breast Cancer. I remember that day with a lot of blurry memories. A lot of tears and not really knowing what to think. I couldn’t even imagine how much my life would be about cancer in the next few years.
That summer was spent worrying a lot about moving across the country away from my friends to go to college. My mom was living in a different state than me going through treatments. The next time I saw my mom, she was sick and had no hair. I remember simply trying to block out any bad feelings that came up about her diagnosis. We were lucky enough that her prognosis was positive, but it was still a really scary time for all of us.
I moved away to Michigan shortly after to attend my dream school. So, at Festifall that September, I was walking around between classes, overwhelmed by my options when I passed a table where someone in a tie-dye shirt yelled, “Do you love kids and hate cancer?” right in my face. I thought, “well, yeah” so I took a flyer and went to the meeting the next week.
I ended up joining, and it turned out to be the single best decision I have ever made. This organization is called Camp Kesem. We are a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “help kids through and beyond a parent’s cancer” by offering a week-long summer camp for kids affected by a parent’s cancer.
My first year at camp, I remember walking into the building feeling so lost and unsure of what was going to happen. I was going to be with the Black Unit - the teenagers. I’d worked with teenagers in the past, and I really loved how much I could learn from them. Despite my experience, I was incredibly nervous. The campers got there on Sunday, and I instantly saw how close everyone already was. I got nervous that I wouldn’t ever fit in with them. They changed my mind by the end of the first night. We were at our cabin chat (the time each night that your unit sits down and chats about the day, life, etc.) and we instantly got really deep. We were talking about our stories with cancer and how it hurt us to know our loved ones were hurting.
Two campers in my unit were siblings, and this night marked a year since their mother had passed away (while they were at camp). There were obviously high emotions - their little siblings coming in several times because they couldn’t sleep, missing their mom. I was heartbroken for these strong children I had just met. During our conversation, one of our counselors was sharing her story and broke down in tears. One of these campers got up and went over to comfort her. I was astonished that a teenage boy who was in so much pain and heartbreak was putting aside his feelings to comfort another in the room. I tell this story all the time as a testament to what Camp Kesem is for me - unconditional love and family.
After camp, I had gained a new family. I applied and was accepted to the Coordinator Board for my sophomore year as a Development Coordinator. I served there for two years, raising over $100,000 one year and over $116,000 the next. Something that is indescribable about this organization drew me in, and I was hooked.
I am now so honored to serve as one of the Co-Directors for the 2016-2017 years for my chapter. My Co-Director and I have both learned so much about ourselves, our fellow counselors, and our campers through this experience.
Because of Camp Kesem, and my experience working directly with the cancer patients and survivors, as well as their spouses, children, and loved ones, I am sure that this population is one I hope to work with for the rest of my life. Through my involvement with Camp Kesem, my passion for working in the cancer community has grown more every day. After receiving my Master’s in Social Work, I hope to obtain my Oncology Social Work certificate and continue to work with the cancer community in the future, being the voice of patients and families who often go unheard. I hope to work in the health field as an oncology social worker, specifically to work with the patients and their families through the tough journey that is a cancer diagnosis. Joining Camp Kesem changed my personal life, my friend group, and my career path, and I am forever grateful to have that in my life.
So, if you’re nervous about joining a club or organization you think you might be interested in – do it. It might just change your life!