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Free summer camp provides community for kids with cancer

After a two-year hiatus, Camp Kemo is back. The summer camp specializes in giving experiences to those who have gone through, or are going through cancer treatment.

EASTOVER, S.C. — Every year, Camp Kemo provides something that other summer camps just can’t - a chance for kids with cancer to find community and forget their harsh realities.

The camp was opened over 40 years ago and this year the weeklong camp is back in action, after taking a couple years off because of COVID-19. It works as a part of Prisma Health Children’s Hospital and gives an opportunity for patients to feel ‘normal.’ It is open to patients who are going through or have gone through cancer treatment.

This provides a unique experience for campers; they are able to go to summer camp surrounded by kids with similar experiences. Zoie Tipping, an 11-year-old who has been going to the camp for 5 years, says campers understand each other on a deeper level.

“They feel what you’ve gone through.”

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Zakaria Smith, a 16-year-old camper who’s been going to Kemo for 10 years, says it’s a great way for those campers to step out of their daily anxieties.

“It helped take my mind off of everything. It made me feel like, ‘Oh, I’m not going through treatment right now.”

Camp Directory Casandra Shea adds that while the campers have the same experiences, the topic of cancer isn’t the focus. She says sickness and treatment is an unspoken theme through all of their lives and it creates a special bond between not only campers, but also staff. Since they have those commonalities, Shea explains that there is a feeling of security and trust with the kids.

“That safety and security that comes from knowing that people around you understand you and are here to protect you. Physically but also emotionally and socially, too.”

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Some campers feel such a strong connection to Camp Kemo that they stick around even after treatment. Some, like Craig King, even become counselors. He was diagnosed with cancer at 17 and attended camp shortly after. He says the unique environment and ability to impact lives is special.

He adds that since he is also a cancer survivor, he’s been able to connect with campers in a way that many other summer camp counselors can’t.

“We get so much from our campers. They teach us love, they teach us compassion, they teach us how to live fearlessly.”

This year, Camp Kemo is taking place at Camp Cole in Eastover. Camp Cole is named after Cole Sawyer, a Camp Kemo camper who lost his battle with cancer at 11-years-old in 2004. The camp opened last year and is providing a space for campers like those from Camp Kemo.

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