Camp Kesem helps children of cancer patients stay upbeat

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There were many things going through Rob Newbould’s mind when he was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. One of his biggest worries was how to break the news to his young children — a worry that he shared with many parents also diagnosed with cancer.

Newbould’s discovery of Camp Kesem shortly after his diagnosis helped make revealing the news to his children just a little bit easier.

“We were able to let the kids know that they were not alone in their feelings and that, in a few months, they would have the opportunity to go to summer camp with kids who were going through the exact same thing,” Newbould said.

Camp Kesem recognized the need to help the children of cancer patients and to make sure they don’t miss the simple joys of childhood. 

Brian Brown joined Camp Kesem as a volunteer counselor in 2010. Two years later, Brown became the director the BYU division of Camp Kesem. Brown’s goal with the camp is to empower the children of cancer patients to see things in a positive light.

“I want to help kids see that there is still something to smile about and to live for,” Brown said, “to live in the moment and realize their parent is not gone yet and focus on what they can be doing with them now.”

Brian also aims to help the children break away from the feeling that their parent’s cancer will be the overwhelming feature of their lives.

“We want them to learn to express themselves,” Brown said. “To re-invent themselves and realize that having a parent who is suffering from cancer isn’t what defines them.”

As a part of this, the children and counselors pick their own names at the beginning of camp. This experience allows the children to anyone they want to be and inspires them to become that type of person.

It’s hard to believe that such vibrant smiles are coming from children whose parents are suffering from cancer, but this is just one of the miracles that takes place at Camp Kesem. (Courtesy Camp Kesem)

Jared Cowley became involved with Camp Kesem last February as a counselor and is going back this year as the assistant director.Cowley believes that one of the most important elements of Camp Kesem is that the children are there for each other.

“We, as leaders, facilitate, but the children are really the ones who make the camp,” Cowley said.

He went on to add that group-based activities and fireside talks help the children find something to bond over other than the fact that their parents are suffering from cancer.

Cowley spoke of one experience with a boy at camp who had lost his mother 10 months prior. At the beginning of the week, the little boy was withdrawn and independent. However, by the end of the week he was able to not only connect with the other children at camp, but reach out and help them.

“The kids look to you as a hero, but in all reality they’re yours,” Cowley said. “This boy was a real hero to me with the way he was able to make the best of his circumstance, turn it into something positive and help the children around him.”

Three years later, Newbould’s two boys, self-named Lemonhead and Smalls while at camp, have been greatly impacted by Camp Kesem.

“Sometimes it is really tough to have a dad with cancer,” Smalls said. “When I’m at camp, I don’t have to worry about anything, and I get to have a break from it all. I get to have lots of fun and just be a kid.”

The boys have continued going, and each time the experience has been powerful and positive.

“Camp Kesem is amazing!” Lemonhead said. “It has helped me through a lot of tough times and I have made lots of friends at camp.”

Newbould has watched as his boys have gone to camp and come back different people. Newbould believes that Camp Kesem is the best thing to do for families suffering from cancer.

“There isn’t anything else like it,” Newbould said. “No other form of therapy or counseling or anything else will have as large of an impact on their well-being as hanging out with a bunch of kids who are in the same situation.”

Newbould also recognizes the impact the camp has had on those volunteer counselors.

“If you are a college student who is thinking about being a camp counselor, it will change you life,” Newbould said. “You will laugh, you will cry and you will become a hero in the eyes of lots of kids who need a little bit of love.”

For more information about Camp Kesem, or to sign up to be a volunteer, check out its Facebook page or, email any questions to .

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