I was 15 years old when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.I remember the day she told me. My mom decided to surprise me and take me to lunch. Elated from missing class and knowing I had a junior varsity football game later that day, my passion to explain to my mom the drama of high school was probably bursting at the seams. Then, I felt out of nowhere, my mom tells me she had some testing done and she had cancer. I was slightly confused and asked a couple of questions, but her persistence on telling me she would be OK won me over.
She told me I could come along with her for any or all of her treatments, but I told her I didn't want to miss football practice. Later that day I realized that I needed to go with my mom to treatments. With all the courage I could raise, I walked up to my football coach, and told him my mom had cancer and I might miss some practices. Thinking I might get kicked off the team or something terrible was happening, it was one of the hardest conversations I ever had to have. This is the thought process of a 15-year-old.
As my mom went through treatments, she would teach me how to drive, take me out to countless lunches and never miss a football game. Even though from an outside perspective things were going great. There was also one thing missing between my mom and me after her diagnoses. We never talked about cancer after that first lunch. We would walk in races, embrace the pink logos and do everything that you are supposed to do, except talk about how it impacted us at the time. I never told her that I hated sitting in the waiting room of the hospital, how many times I didn't do my homework because I was too afraid to ask her for help, or the hundreds of questions I had that just went unanswered.
In December of 2010, when I was a junior at the University of Missouri, I was telling my mom I wanted to work at a summer camp. We were brainstorming of what summer camp I should work for, when I decided to Google "cancer camps." As I went through the pages, none really jumped out to me. Then, I found one that I had never heard of before, Camp Kesem. As I read, I was shocked to see the mission of Camp Kesem, "Camp Kesem is a network of summer camps that recognizes and embraces children whose parents have been affected by cancer." I was reading paragraph after paragraph to my mom, she insisted that I email the organization and try to get a job.
I never received a job that summer. It turns out Camp Kesem is run almost solely by college student volunteers who have decide to give their time and energy to something that falls outside their normal course work. Out of encouragement from my family, I decided to apply and volunteer to start the University of Missouri chapter of Camp Kesem. Over the next year, I would work with amazing people to fundraise, plan, budget and recruit towards the first annual "Camp Kesem Mizzou." The entire year was a blur, full of highs and lows and lessons in life I will carry with me forever. Finally, after 18 months of fundraising $28,000+ and recruiting a team of 81 college students we held a free summer camp for 30 children ages 6-16 whose parents have been affected by cancer. We reached the goal, but there is one piece of the story that is missing.
Every Camp Kesem chapters needs a nurse to volunteer their time for an entire week. As many chapters struggle to find such a commitment, I had someone in mind the whole time, my mom. As a nurse at the VA Hospital for 29 years, it was an easy decision. That week my mom and I experienced so much together. For the first time we talked about what we went through when I was 15, she told me the answers to all my questions, and our relationship grew to a complete new level. It may have taken 8 years, but Camp Kesem gave me the opportunity to relive my childhood with my mom by side.
It is because of my mom and because of the spirit and inspiration I found and continue to find in all of the Camp Kesem student volunteers, that I have decided to support Camp Kesem this Giving Tuesday. The Camp Kesem student volunteers are prime examples of how college students can still give back to their communities. I want to ensure that every child has the opportunity to be a kid again. I want to be sure that these kids gain the confidence and support that I didn't have for 8 years. I want these kids to not be the invisible victims of cancer.
For more information about Camp Kesem, please visit www.CampKesem.org. Watch for Camp Kesem's #BigKidsGive x #GivingTuesday photo campaign all over social media this December 3rd, 2013.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2013) on December 3. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. We'll feature at least one post from a #GivingTuesday partner every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here.
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