On my right wrist, I always wear 5 bracelets. They are simple and some are made of string, but from each of them I draw inspiration. As silly as it sounds, each bracelet has its own name, because they remind me of different friends from my time with Camp Kesem Notre Dame (CKND).
I received my yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet at the LIVESTRONG Assembly in 2013, a wonderful opportunity to learn about the innovative ways their community partners fight cancer from all sides. One of the CKND counselors who went with me was Nemo. If there's one thing to know about Nemo, it's that she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. Nemo is my rock. She's an incredibly caring and compassionate person -- a shoulder to cry on and a warm hug in hard times. When I look at this yellow bracelet, I'm reminded of the times we met at Starbucks for coffee and ended up talking for hours. I'm reminded to always approach others with an open mind and an open heart, just like Nemo.
During my first summer at camp, there was a camper named Izzy in my day group. At first, Izzy was definitely "too cool for school." She tried to maintain her image as the popular girl of the group, but as the week progressed, she started to break out of her shell. By the end of the week, she knew the lyrics to all of our camp songs and promised to come back the next year. Before she left, she gave me a friendship bracelet made of blue, green and purple string that I've worn every day since. Izzy's bracelet reminds me that it's okay to feel, to break out of your comfort zone and to trust in others.
The Karl Kesem Sillyband is one I received from a fellow counselor, Socks, in 2013. Socks was one of my first Camp Kesem friends when I went to camp in summer 2012. He was a counselor in the youngest boys cabin and I was across the path in the oldest boys cabin. A senior when I was a sophomore, Socks was the volunteer coordinator and responsible for counselor recruitment and training. Socks has a very personal connection to Camp Kesem and he cares about the camp and our kids on a level unmatched by most because Socks is a big kid himself. Though he may not agree with this, I'd say Socks is a big teddy bear. Like Nemo, he's a rock for anyone who knows him. When I think of Socks, I'm reminded that Camp Kesem helps kids remember that they are never alone, that the friendships we build are lifelong.
As soon as you meet Ghost, you instantly know she's much smarter than you will ever be. Her camp name was "Pinky Pie" my first year because of a hot pink streak of hair she dyed before camp. Before that, she was "JK Rowling" because she was already writing her first book. That first summer at camp, Ghost and I spent swim time hanging out with another camper named Sasquatch. We talked about indie music and Charles Dickens, popular movies and obscure comic books. We discussed why some kids in school just don't get it, eventually realizing that they're just afraid to be themselves and "let their freak flag fly." At 13-years-old, Ghost knew who she was and wasn't afraid to let it show. She taught me so much about committing yourself to whatever it is you're passionate about. On the last day of camp, Ghost made me a purple, red and green friendship bracelet because "purple is for royalty, green is for Karl and red is just cool." Ghost's bracelet reminds me to always take joy in what I do, to share my passions with others, and to never be afraid to be myself.
The last bracelet means the most. My first year at camp was also the first year for one of my campers, Sasquatch. Though he was one of our older boys, Sasquatch was unsure about making new friends, so we spent a lot of time walking together to meet new campers. He was understandably nervous about coming to camp and was hesitant, at first, of taking the initiative to meet new people. That all changed after our Empowerment Ceremony the Wednesday night of camp when we all gathered together to discuss what unites us, why we're all at Camp Kesem and why our CK family is so strong -- we're all affected by cancer in some way. Sasquatch spoke to the whole camp about his mom's battle and after, he helped console other campers (and counselors) who were having a tough time. When I look at my Empowerment bracelet, I think of what Sasquatch said in the sharing circle: "I know I just met you all, but you're already my new family. I'll never forget this."
That is Camp Kesem to me.
Camp Kesem is a network of one-week summer camps for kids affected by a parent’s cancer. Click here to learn more and find a Camp Kesem chapter near you.