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When Jamie Flecker, 46, went to see a doctor in 2012 about back pain, she never imagined she would be rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a rare cancer called leiomyosarcoma.
Leiomyosarcoma is an aggressive cancer of the smooth muscle, and usually occurs in the uterus or abdomen. It accounts for less than .035 percent of all cancer cases, according to a study by Sweden University Hospital.
As Flecker prepared to undergo immediate surgery to remove a melon-sized tumor, all she could think about was, “making a list of all of the things my kids needed, contacting their teachers, and ensuring that they would be okay,” she told FoxNews.com
After her surgery, Flecker was bedridden at her Coram, N.Y. home for months and underwent aggressive chemotherapy in an effort to ward off the soft tissue sarcoma.
“Everything revolved around my bed,” she recalled. “But my kids were just happy that I was home.”
Flecker and her husband have been very open with their two children, 11-year-old Mitchell and 10-year-old Amanda, about her illness.
But Flecker, now in remission, worries that her battle with cancer might be impacting her children in ways that she can’t see.
“My kids say they’re fine, but I don’t know what they are actually thinking,” she said.
Children of cancer patients are often an overlooked population because they do not suffer from the disease themselves. However, the emotional stress of growing up with a parent battling cancer often robs children of their carefree childhood. Many times, they suffer quietly, leading to academic, social, emotional and developmental problems, according to a study from the Groningen University Medical Center.
Addressing the Need
As the only national organization that addresses the needs of over 3 million children in this position, Camp Kesem aims to give children an escape to an environment where they can have fun and just be kids.
Founded in 2000 at Stanford University, Camp Kesem has 54 chapters across the United States and will sponsor over 3,800 campers this summer. The overnight camp, for children ages 6-16 who have or have had a parent with cancer, is completely free.
All of the camps are also organized and operated entirely by college students, giving them a unique opportunity to develop leadership skills and make a lasting impact on the lives of children.
When Tobin George and Jamie Leonard, seniors at Stony Brook University in New York, were introduced to Camp Kesem, they were immediately motivated to bring the camp to the Long Island community. The students both have a personal connection to the cause— George was just seven when he lost his mother to leukemia and Leonard was a teenager when his father battled prostate cancer.
“Having been in that position, I know the need. I know the reasoning behind the magic of Camp Kesem firsthand. I think it’s an incredible opportunity that we have to be able to give back to our community and say, ‘You’re not alone,’” Leonard told FoxNews.com.
After being awarded a $10,000 LIVESTRONG grant, Camp Kesem Stony Brook was founded last year and will host its first camp this summer. The camp will take place from August 10-15 and will have the largest group of campers for any new Camp Kesem chapter.
Flecker first found out about Camp Kesem while searching the web for resources to support her children as she underwent treatment.
“When I first read about Camp Kesem I thought, they absolutely have to go,” Flecker said. “I know this is going to be the most amazing experience they can have.”
A Week of Magic
“Kesem” means magic in Hebrew, and that sentiment is at the center of all camp activities. From daily offerings like swimming, archery, and campfires, to themed days like Color Day and Reality TV Day, the camp is packed with fun adventures.
“I’m excited for camp,” Flecker’s son Mitchell told FoxNews.com. “I’m most looking forward to all of the different activities.”
Present in various mediums throughout camp is a green and blue cartoon caterpillar named Karl Kesem, the national mascot for the camp. A symbol of the transformation that caterpillars undergo to become butterflies, Karl represents the transformation that campers and counselors undergo at the camp.
Another tradition of Camp Kesem, Cabin Chats, is chance for campers to develop close-knit communities and talk about things as simple as favorite books and as meaningful as their fears and hopes.
Flecker’s daughter Amanda told FoxNews.com that she is, “excited about outdoor sports, s'mores, swimming, and campfires.”
“Meeting other kids who are going through what I did will be helpful,” she added.
While the campers are aware of the reason they are at Camp Kesem, their parent’s cancer is directly addressed only once, at the Empowerment Ceremony. During the ceremony, counselors and campers gather together and have the opportunity to share how cancer has impacted their lives, while finding strength and support from each other.
The impact of Camp Kesem lasts far beyond the week of camp, allowing participants to make lasting friendships and giving families a lasting support network.
As camp approaches, George and Leonard hope that the inaugural year of Camp Kesem Stony Brook will serve as a model for the future.
“One of our biggest hopes is that we are able to successfully create a camp that not only impacts the lives of the campers we have this year, but we also want to create a strong foundation so that this camp can continue to exist and service Long Island,” George said.
Ruchi Shah is a FOX News college associate and a member of the leadership team of Camp Kesem Stony Brook.