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Kids Set Aside Their Parent’s Illnesses At Free Camp Run By Duke/UNC Students And Duke Cancer Patient Support Program

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- A gray cloud hangs over the sun-drenched summer days of the Clouse family. After months of troubling symptoms, Bill Clouse's doctor discovered a sarcoma the size of a Nerf ball in his thigh earlier this year. Thankfully, intensive treatments at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center have driven his cancerous tumor into remission. Yet Clouse's battle with cancer made an indelible impact on his two teenage girls.

"When I was first diagnosed, neither one of them wanted to hear details about it. They had a 'don't tell me and everything will be OK' mentality," said Clouse, a 54-year-old native of Oak Ridge, N.C. "But as I began to go through treatments, they began to openly ask questions about the cancer. They aren't so bashful about it anymore."

Talking about their dad's cancer meant accepting its reality, a bitter pill to swallow as children become acutely aware of their parents' mortality. When Clouse's wife, Julia, saw a brochure describing a unique camp for the children of cancer patients, the couple decided it would an ideal place for their daughters to savor the carefree days of summer. The younger of the two girls is signed up to attend the one-week camp.

"I hope my daughter gets seven days of being a 13-year-old," said Clouse. "I want her to have fun, ride horses. She needs the opportunity to just be a kid."

The idea for Camp Kesem -- named after the Hebrew word for magic -- grew out of the hearts and minds of three Duke students charged with developing an idea for a fall course last year. Yoav Lurie, a Duke junior, proposed the idea based on his personal experience with cancer.

"I know firsthand the trauma of being a child with a terminally ill parent, and the emotions of having a parent in treatment for cancer," said Lurie, whose mother had breast cancer when he was in high school. Together with classmates Jeff Leibach and John Rimel, Lurie formulated the plan for Camp Kesem.

The students then teamed up with the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program, which provides support, counseling and classes for cancer patients at Duke. The Duke program had the expertise and resources to sponsor the camp and to create an atmosphere in which children can set aside their worries, at least for a week.

"While much effort is made to combat the illness and treat the psychological effects in cancer patients, very little support is offered for the families, especially the children," said Leibach. "We want to offer them a safe, supportive environment away from home."

The Duke trio enlisted the help of student volunteers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to make the camp a true community effort.

Camp Kesem will run from Aug. 4-10 at the Keyauwee Program Center in Sophia, N.C. The camp is free and open to children ages six to 13 whose parents are undergoing cancer treatment, are in remission, or whose parents have died from cancer.

Campers will reside in small log cabins during their week at camp, while taking advantage of a full-service mess hall, swimming pool, lake, recreational lodge, climbing wall and horse stables. Children will also participate in arts and crafts, archery and team sports. Food will be provided by Vicks Barbecue in Greensboro, and transportation will be provided to and from the camp by a busing service.

The camp has no shortage of help, with at least two staff members for each camper. Camp counselors will include student volunteers from Duke and UNC. A nurse from Duke will be on hand for the entire week. Employees from the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program will also be on site.

"We believe it is very special that almost half of our counseling staff is made up of UNC students and that we are working with both UNC and Duke medical centers," said Leibach. "People from both universities have rallied around the cause and were willing to help."

Camp Kesem still has a few slots available. Interested parents may contact Cheyenne Corbett of the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program at (919) 668-2480.

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